Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass men’s lacrosse improves playoff chances with victory over Drexel

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Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

The 2015 season hasn’t gone exactly as planned for the Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team thus far in regular season play. But with its crucial home victory Saturday afternoon, the Minutemen are now right back in the hunt for a playoff spot.

UMass (4-8, 2-2 Colonial Athletic Association) defeated Drexel 12-9 in its return to Garber Field after playing its first five home games at McGuirk Stadium. The victory gave the Minutemen the head-to-head tiebreaker over both Hofstra and Drexel, putting them in prime position for a top-four spot that qualifies for the CAA tournament.

“There’s no better feeling for me personally,” UMass coach Greg Cannella said about returning to Garber Field with a victory. “We struggled last weekend and the guys showed a lot of character fighting back and coming out with the win (Saturday).”

UMass held control for most of the tightly contested game, first capitalizing on a Ryan Izzo goal off the opening faceoff at the 12-second mark, which set the tone early on. But a 4-2 run by the Dragons (6-7, 2-2 CAA) to open the third quarter evened the score at seven apiece.

That’s when redshirt sophomore Dan Muller recaptured the momentum for the Minutemen, scoring consecutive goals two minutes apart to give UMass a 9-7 lead with one minute, 56 seconds left in the third.

A tally by Grant Whiteway with four seconds remaining in the frame added to the decisive three-goal advantage and gave the Minutemen a 10-7 lead entering the final 15 minutes of regulation.

“They started going on their own little run and we always say, ‘Just stop the bleeding,’” said Muller, who finished with a hat trick. “I took advantage of a lot of the opportunities that I saw today.”

The Minutemen then continued their success to open the fourth quarter by scoring two more goals, opening up a momentary five-goal lead before Drexel struck back for two late tallies.

UMass’ 12 goals marked its highest output since its win against Penn State on March 14 and ended a four-game drought of scoring single digit goals.

Muller and Brendan Hegarty each scored three times Saturday to go along with two from Whiteway. A total of seven Minutemen found the scoresheet against the Dragons.

After the game, Cannella praised this offensive balance which hasn’t always been present this season.

“Any time you can score 12 against a team like Drexel, (who’s) been playing great defense, you got to be happy with it,” Cannella said. “You just want to be able to consistently score at that level.”

On defense, redshirt junior Zach Oliveri led the way with 14 saves in cage for the Minutemen. Cannella acknowledged the importance of Oliveri bouncing back from a tough day against Hartford last week, in which he allowed eight goals and finished with only one save in a 15-8 loss.

“He’s steady,” Cannella said. “This week he came back and fought hard and made some key saves for us and played the ball very well for us as well.”

While Oliveri said he was happy with his personal performance, he credited the physical defensive play in front of him for limiting the Dragons’ offensive opportunities and open looks toward net.

In particular, Oliveri noted the play of defensive midfielders Izzo (three ground balls) and Austin Spencer (five) in causing turnovers and leading the transition offense the other way.

“I thought that my defense did a really great job making stops,” Oliveri said. “They just did a really good job at making my job easier.”

UMass entered the day in fifth place within the CAA standings, one spot out from qualifying for the tournament. But with Saturday’s victory, the Minutemen are now in position as the No. 3 seed with one game to play.

The Minutemen host Delaware for their regular season finale next Friday at 7 p.m. A win would clinch a playoff spot while a loss may leave them on the outside looking in for the second consecutive season.

“I can’t wait for next week,” Muller said. “Hopefully a lot of fans will be there for Senior Night and I’m definitely looking forward to that one.”

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

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