Too little, too late once again for UMass men’s lacrosse

By Anthony Chiusano

Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian
Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

Heading into the final quarter of Saturday’s game against Fairfield, the Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team faced a sizable four-goal disadvantage. Behind a 5-2 run however, the Minutemen quickly cut the deficit to 10-9, setting themselves up for a final chance at an equalizer with less than a minute remaining.

But with leading scorer Nick Mariano double-teamed in the final seconds, the game rested in Brendan Hegarty’s hands.

Gaining possession with the clock winding down, the sophomore attacker released a difficult close-range shot that Stags goalie Tyler Behring easily stopped to preserve the victory.

It marked UMass’ second consecutive loss and second losing streak of the season after the Minutemen (3-7, 1-2 CAA) opened the year 0-5. Saturday’s result also continued a season-long theme of late rallies by the UMass attack that ultimately fell short.

“I thought we had a good look at it,” Minutemen coach Greg Cannella said about the final possession. “We’d love to see (Hegarty) stick that, be a little bit stronger than that, but again, give Fairfield credit in that spot. They made a big play.”

UMass’ unsuccessful ending mirrored its loss to Albany on March 7. Losing by the same score, the Minutemen failed to tie the game after a deflected pass led to an empty possession as the final seconds passed.

In total, Saturday’s loss to Fairfield was UMass’ third one-goal defeat of 2015. With these close losses and short-lived late rallies has come mounting frustration, according to Cannella.

“I’m frustrated, our guys are frustrated,” Cannella said.

The Minutemen held its only lead of the day in the second quarter after back-to-back goals by Gianni Bianchin and Hegarty gave UMass a 4-3 lead. But the Stags regained the advantage heading into the break with goals from T.J. Nebauer and Jake Knostman in the final four minutes.

After a low-scoring first half, Fairfield then took control in the third period, tallying three goals while shutting out the Minutemen’s offense.

Cannella said the Stags’ third period success stemmed from their halftime switch to a zone defense which made it difficult for UMass to find shot opportunities, especially for Mariano (19 goals, 13 assists).

“It felt like we didn’t score for three days for a while there,” Cannella said. “We just don’t have anyone who can really stretch that zone out.”

But Mariano finally broke through with a goal at the 9:43 mark to start UMass’ 5-2 run over the final 15 minutes. With scores from Kurt Hunziker, Dan Muller and two from Buddy Carr, the Minutemen were suddenly back in striking distance.

“That’s the type of spark we were looking for all game,” senior Andrew Sokol said. “There was a sense of urgency there in the fourth quarter.”

But with the failure to execute in the final minute, Carr acknowledged third period struggles as a key factor in finishing just short of a comeback once again.

“It’s still too little, too late,” Carr said. “If we were able to get a couple of goals in the third, it would have definitely helped carrying over into the fourth.”

Cannella added that showing urgency and aggressiveness on both ends of the field consistently throughout a game is an area for improvement looking ahead.

“You ask your guys to have a sense of urgency for 60 minutes,” Cannella said. “Guys are down and we’re able to make some stops, create some transition and then you know, in those (late) situations it’s now or never.”

Cannella added: “Those guys had that ‘now’ attitude. But honestly, you need that ‘now’ attitude for the entire game. You can’t just have it in the fourth quarter…The fight is there but it’s just that a little bit of the execution is not.”

Anthony Chiusano can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @a_chiusano24.