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Bryant comeback falls short, Bulldogs fall to #12 Yale, 9-8

Photo by Tom O'Brien
Photo by Tom O'Brien

SMITHFIELD, R.I. – The Bryant University men's lacrosse team scored three fourth-quarter goals to pull back within a single tally Saturday afternoon but couldn't net the equalizer, falling to No. 12 Yale, 9-8, at the Bryant Turf Complex.

The Bulldogs (2-2) controlled much of the possession through the final 15 minutes, but six Bryant turnovers in the final stanza – including one in the game's final seconds – allowed the Elis (2-0) to hold on for the victory. Saturday's game marked the third-straight one-goal finish between the sides and the third such margin in four all-time meetings.

A trio of Bulldogs found the net twice in the outing, with sophomore attack Shane Morrell (Glen Mills, Pa.) leading the way with three points (2g, 1a). Senior linemate Dan Sipperly (Greenwich, N.Y.) chipped in two scores, with sophomore midfielder Collins Gantz (Denver, Colo.) also added a duo of goals. Senior captain and defensive middie JK Poirier (Coatesville, Pa.) also got involved in the scoring action, dishing out a pair of helpers for his first two points of the season.

Conrad Oberbeck paced the visitors with a hat trick and finished with four points on the day, firing 10 of the team's 55 shots. Colin Flaherty also chipped in a hat trick for Yale, who saw goalie Eric Natale make 10 stops between the pipes.

The Bulldogs never led in the contest despite a pair of early ties, and 10 first-half turnovers played a role in Bryant's 7-4 halftime deficit. Oberbeck's hat trick was contained in the opening period alone and was accompanied by scores from Brandon Mangan (man-down), Flaherty and Jeff Cimbalista en route to a 6-3 advantage entering the second quarter.

"We were just too careless, especially in the first half," said Bryant head coach Mike Pressler. "In the clearing game and certainly on offense, our lack of taking care of the ball came back to bite us. The theme of the whole week was to not beat ourselves, and that was the story of the first half."

An unassisted Morrell marker – after lingering behind the cage, the sophomore swung around the left side of the goal to deposit his shot beyond the reach of Natale – cut the score to 6-4 just a minute into the second, but Flaherty responded less than two minutes later. Both sides stood strong on defense for the remainder of the frame, sending the teams to the intermission with the three-goal gap.

After the break, 10 minutes of back-and-forth action kept the scoreboard frozen at 7-4 before Sipperly finally broke through off a Morrell assist with five minutes left to play to close the deficit to two. Austin Rocco reasserted Yale's three-goal lead in the final 90 seconds of the quarter, though, setting up a dramatic finish in the fourth.

Gantz got the Bulldog rally started three minutes into the final period, and Morrell pulled the hosts even closer with 8:49 remaining off a feed from Poirier for an 8-7 margin. And while Bryant sophomore goalie Gunnar Waldt (Freeland, Md.) turned away four in the fourth frame alone, Yale would break its silence with 5:31 to play, with Flaherty capping off his hat trick to renew a multi-goal lead for the visitors.

Gantz would waste no time getting the goal back – he scored 53 seconds later, lacing one into the upper right corner of the net off a pass from Brian Schlansker (Glenville, N.Y.) – but multiple scoring chances in the final minutes would break the wrong way for the Bulldogs, who found themselves on the wrong side of the 9-8 margin at the final whistle.

"We were resilient," said Pressler. "We were down four at the half, and we battled back. We survived the first quarter and played very well, at times, from then on."

Waldt and junior faceoff specialist Kevin Massa (Huntington, N.Y.) were both standouts once again for the Black and Gold, who needed strong performances at both positions to remaining within striking distance throughout the affair. Waldt would finish the day with 15 saves, while Massa went 14-of-21 from the X with a game-best seven ground balls.

"The two performances we had to have to beat Yale was Gunnar in the cage and Kevin Massa at the faceoff X," said Pressler. "We rely on Gunnar to make a lot of saves, and Gunnar had another quality game in the goal. And Kevin was outstanding as well, winning the battle against Dylan Levings today.

"We needed those two players, in particular, to play very well, and they did," he added. "That had a lot to do with us making it a one-goal game."

On the afternoon, Yale outshot Bryant, 55-29, and edged out its host in the ground ball game, 35-33. The Bulldogs went just 11-for-16 on the clear, forcing the Elis to fail just once (17-18), as Saturday's visitors limited their giveaways to just nine compared to 19 from the home roster. Bryant also took six penalties on the day, though the Black and Gold defense blanked Yale in all six man-advantage tries.

"For us it's about continuing to find ways to get scoring from other people," said Pressler. "We put so much pressure on our lead guys, we just have to develop some other options on offense."

Scoring diversity is something the Bulldogs will need sooner than later, too, as Bryant moves past the loss and looks onward to yet another nationally ranked opponent in No. 15/16 Drexel next Saturday (March 8) at home. The Dragons topped fellow Northeast Conference member Robert Morris, 18-12, Saturday.

"It is fortunate for us that that is a home game," said Pressler. "Drexel is an outstanding offensive team from what I've seen. Every year we've played them has been a pretty close game. It'll be a very, very similar game to ours against both Bucknell and Yale as we take on certainly one of the best college lacrosse teams in the country once again."