Syracuse holds off PU men’s lax for national title

Tigers fall to Orange in NCAA final for second time in three years

By: Bob Nuse
   PISCATAWAY — In a game that virtually mirrored its season, the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team dug itself out of a huge hole and nearly shocked everyone.
   But in the end, the Tigers finished one goal short, falling to Syracuse, 13-12, in the NCAA championship game at Rutgers University on Monday. With the loss, Princeton fell one game short of its ultimate goal of winning a national championship.
   After overcoming a 2-4 start to the season to eventually reach the NCAA title game, Princeton fell five goals behind Syracuse early in the third quarter before coming back to get within one goal with just over 11 minutes left to play in the fourth quarter. But from that point on neither team would score and Syracuse had its second national title in three years.
   The loss was the second in three years in the national final for Princeton, which beat Syracuse in overtime last year after falling to the Orangemen in the final two years ago.
   "I’m not disappointed at all," said Princeton coach Bill Tierney, whose team held Syracuse to just one goal in the final 25 minutes. "This is about being one of the two teams here putting on a good show in the showcase of lacrosse. I’m so proud of the effort and the perseverance these kids showed today. That’s what it’s about.
   "As I told the kids in the locker room after the game, if being successful is measure just by winning, then there aren’t many successful people in this world because no one wins all the time."
   For Princeton, just getting to the championship game was a victory in itself. After starting the season as the No. 1 team in the country, the Tigers lost four of their first six games and were left for dead by the rest of the lacrosse world. They won their final six regular season games to win the Ivy League championship, then topped Georgetown and Johns Hopkins to reach the NCAA final.
   "I think the most important thing about this season is that the kids on this team found out a lot about themselves in life," Tierney said. "They found out you can start at the top and if you don’t respect that or yourself you can be beaten by anyone.
   "But they also found out that you can still pick yourself back up and learn a lot about your perseverance as a team."
   The Tigers certainly persevered on Monday. They jumped out to a 5-3 lead in the first quarter and led, 5-4, at the end of the first 15 minutes. By halftime the Orangemen had taken an 8-6 lead, which grew to 12-7 in the first five minutes of the third quarter.
   At that point the defense buckled down and held Syracuse to just one more goal. Meanwhile, the offense started to click again as goals by Sean Hartofilis, B.J. Prager, Hartofilis again and then Brad Dumont brought the Tigers to within 12-11. After a Michael Powell goal made it 13-11, Dumont scored again with 11:22 to play to cut it to 13-12. But neither team scored again and Syracuse earned the national title.
   "We jumped out to a good start, but then for a while there it felt like we couldn’t stop them," Tierney said. "I thought our kids showed a lot of heart to come back from being down 12-7 to a team like Syracuse. We got within a goal and we had some good looks in the fourth quarter.
   "When you look up at the scoreboard and see it’s 12-8, you just hope you don’t look up again and it’s 20-8. Brad came up with a couple of nice goals to get us back within one, but (Syracuse goalie) Jay Pfeifer made some nice saves against us down the stretch."
   So for Princeton, the season ends with a 10-5 record and third straight trip to the NCAA championship game. In the last six years, every Princeton graduating class has been to at least three championship games. It’s a streak all of the Tigers should be proud of.
   "I’ve been to three national championship games in a row, and even though we came up short in two of them, it’s still an honor to be part of this team," said senior Brendan Tierney, who had a goal and two assists in the semifinal win over Hopkins on Saturday. "I think a lot of people wrote us off early in the season and they thought the Princeton dynasty was over. But I think we showed people the Princeton dynasty is here to stay."
   The one-goal loss was the first for the Tigers in an NCAA tournament game since 1991, when they dropped a triple-overtime decision to Towson State. That was the year before the "dynasty" started the following year. In 1992 the Tigers won the first of their six national titles.
   On Monday they nearly made it No. 7. Hartofilis finished the game with three goals, while Dumont, Ryan Boyle and Mark Pellegrino scored two goals apiece. Prager, Josh White and Matt Trevenen each added a goal. Julian Gould finished the game with 13 saves in goal.
   Prager, who scored five goals in the semifinal win on Saturday, made the all-tournament team along with Dumont and defenseman Damien Davis.