UMass dominates Brown behind shut-down defense and effective passing

By Peter Cappiello

Nicole Evangelista/Daily Collegian
Nicole Evangelista/Daily Collegian

Sean Cleary mentally dissected the play of Brown’s first midfield line from the sidelines. He saw openings in the defense and thought to himself that he could capitalize. Two minutes, 27 seconds into the game, he proved it.

Cleary, a junior  midfielder on the Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team, got a step on a short stick defender and let a shot go a few yards from goal line extended to score the game’s first goal. He did it again less than two minutes later to put the Minutemen ahead 2-0. UMass scored two unanswered goals from there, then broke the game open with 11 straight scores to beat the Bears 15-2 in Providence, R.I., on Saturday.

“That got us off to the right start,” Cleary said of his first two goals. “From there, it was just pedal to the metal. It was a total team effort. There wasn’t one facet of the game where we didn’t execute and play well.”

Cleary added that the victory was sweeter since UMass lost to Brown 9-8 in overtime last year.

Minutemen coach Greg Cannella, in his 20th season, expected his team to play as a cohesive unit and was proud of their effort, especially on the road. The win marked Cannella’s 175th career victory.

He also highlighted the effectiveness of goalkeeper Zach Oliveri and his defensive corps – particularly senior James Fahey and sophomore Kyle Karaska – which held Brown to a goal each in the first and fourth quarter.

“The group collectively, it was a group that determined the outcome of this game,” Cannella said. “Playing very solid defense against a team that scored 13 last week, (Brown won 13-6 over Quinnipiac) only allowing two goals – that’s a good effort.”

The last time UMass held its opponent to two goals was a 23-2 win against Boston College on March 21, 2001.

Freshman Nick Mariano led  the Minutemen offensively with five goals, bringing his total to 14 through four games. The attack got on the board in the second quarter and notched his third consecutive hat trick in the third. Grant Whiteway and Andrew Sokol also had two goals.

Clean assists and two-way play by the midfield were primary factors that generated scoring. Freshman midfielder Jeff George had three helpers, while Connor Mooney and Cleary combined for three more.

Aggressive defense by the midfield also helped force 17 turnovers from the Bears, 10 of those coming before halftime.

Brown sophomore attack Kylor Bellistri made the score 4-1 with 47 seconds left in the first quarter on the man advantage. A.J. Lucchese got Brown’s other goal with 6:17 to play, but the game had been out of reach for nearly three quarters at that point.

Oliveri, who made 11 saves in the win, said the UMass defense made his job in the crease easier than it could have been. The netminder highlighted the value of intense preparation for the Bears; a game he admitted was circled on his team’s calendar.

Oliveri said the hardest part of the contest was staying on an even keel mentally, even with UMass dominating most of the game.

“It’s always a 100 percent mental, 100 percent physical effort,” Oliveri said. “The team as a whole did a good job of staying composed. We kept it on – we kept the energy up and continued to understand it’s a full game.”

Cleary echoed his teammate’s sentiments.

“We used our athleticism all over the field,” Cleary said. “We really challenged them to make them uncomfortable. We challenged every 50/50 ground ball, we pushed transition, we finished the ball and we imposed our will.”

Peter Cappiello can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @petecapps.