UMass survives scare against Hofstra, remains perfect

By Stephen Sellner

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

Clinging to a one-goal lead with 37 seconds remaining in the game, the No. 1/2 Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team turned to its defense to make one last stop.

It had been a difficult night for the unit all game long, having already surrendered a season-high 13 goals. But when it mattered most, the defense stepped up and proved, once again, why it is one of the top units in the country.

Greg Rushing stripped Hofstra’s Mike Malave in his race towards the net and successfully cleared the ball to deny the Pride’s game-tying bid, as UMass survived a thriller at Gillette Stadium, 14-13, on Saturday night to remain perfect.

“You’re [going to] have tight games,” said goalie Tim McCormack. “You’re [going to] have to face adversity, it’s just how you handle it, how you meet it, and the defense was great again when the times called for it.”

With the win, the Minutemen (12-0, 5-0 Colonial Athletic Association) clinched the No. 1 seed in the CAA playoffs, earning the squad at least one more game at Garber Field.

After the game, UMass coach Greg Cannella was unaware that his squad had clinched the top spot in the conference, but acknowledged the achievement and what it means to the players.

“I think that’s one of the things that these guys in this locker room have strived for [and] worked for, so good for them,” said Cannella.

Kyle Smith, Colin Fleming and Art Kell each recorded hat tricks in the contest, while Mike Fetterly and Smith each dished out a pair of assists.

The win appeared to be in serious jeopardy midway through the fourth quarter. With the Minutemen holding a 12-11 lead, Hofstra’s Steve Romano made a move towards the middle of the offensive zone, but Anthony Biscardi met him going full-speed and pummeled Romano to the turf. Romano had to be helped off the field by the Pride training staff as the play ignited an uproar from their sideline.

The referees ruled the play as an illegal body check on Biscardi and sent him to the box for a two-minute, non-releasable penalty.

“I thought it was a clean hit. I didn’t hit him with my head, I didn’t think I deserved the two-minute [penalty],” said Biscardi.

The non-releasable penalty meant Hofstra would have the man-advantage for the entire two minutes regardless of whether it scored or not, giving the Pride a golden opportunity to not only tie the game, but take the lead as well.

But Hofstra’s Mike DeNapoli was whistled for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when Biscardi was heading towards the penalty box, earning a one-minute, non-releasable of his own and giving the Minutemen possession.

It’s still uncertain what DeNapoli said or did to earn the penalty, but the call completely swung momentum back to the Minutemen and UMass followed with two more goals to build a 14-11 advantage.

“I’m not really [going to] talk about it, but there was extra-curricular [activities] going on in the box and it got handled,” said Biscardi.

With possession, the Minutemen effectively ran out the penalty time, dodging a serious bullet that could have derailed its perfect season.

“It’s a big difference in the game. We [were] locked in for two minutes, non-releasable, and it’s just an unfortunate incident,” said Cannella. “I’m not sure what [DeNapoli] was doing there in the box … and it sort of changed the tide of the game at that point.”

UMass appeared to be in control from the opening faceoff, scoring the first four goals of the contest.

However, Hofstra erased a 10-6, third quarter deficit with five unanswered goals to take an 11-10 lead with 14:52 remaining.

But Kell tied the game up at the 12:56 mark of the fourth. Kell happened to be in the right place at the right time as Hofstra goalie Andrew Gvozden stopped a Biscardi shot, but the ball popped out of the head of his stick and landed right in Kell’s, who easily deposited the equalizer from in front of the cage.

Just over three minutes later, Smith gave the Minutemen the lead back after he intercepted a clearing attempt by the Pride, went unchallenged towards the net and beat Gvozden for the go-ahead goal.

McCormack struggled in the second half, allowing eight goals on 13 shots while failing to record a save in the third.

Despite his poor performance, the netminder felt the nail-biting victory will help the team come playoff time, where UMass will likely face similar adversity.

“Sometimes you kind of forget how it is to let in a few too many goals and to have that feeling at this stage in our season is … definitely valuable,” said McCormack. “I think it’s something we can definitely take from this and move forward.”

A year ago, the Minutemen were blown out by Hofstra, 14-5, on April 23 in East Hartford, Conn. McCormack said the team was motivated heading into the game to make up for last year’s poor performance.

“We used last year’s game and we said, ‘This is what they did to us. We got another neutral site. Let’s get them back,’” he said.

The regular season wraps up on Saturday at Delaware, which beat UMass in the CAA championship last year on Garber Field, 9-7, on May 7 to keep the Minutemen out of the NCAA tournament.

Stephen Sellner can be reached at ssellne[email protected] and followed on Twitter @MDC_Sellner.