Fear the Blaze: Men’s Lacrosse advances to NCAA Quarterfinals
By Aaron Cheris
May 9, 2015
Cornell University’s Schoellkopf Field has hosted games for more than a century. In that time, it has probably not seen a moment like the one that occurred on Saturday afternoon.
With time running out in the third quarter, University at Albany (16-2) goalkeeper Blaze Riorden ran the length of the field and scored the unlikeliest of goals. The goal energized the Great Danes and their fans as UAlbany beat Cornell (10-6) 19-10 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
“Blaze [Riorden] scoring that goal really changed the momentum at the end of the third quarter,” UAlbany coach Scott Marr said.
“I just took off, it was natural instincts,” Riorden said. “I closed my eyes, shot it as hard as I could, and it went in a good spot.”
In the beginning, it was Riorden’s saves, not his shooting, that kept UAlbany within striking distance.
In a similar fashion to last week’s America East Championship game, UAlbany quickly fell behind 2-0 on goals by Connor Buczek and John Hogan before the offense woke up.
“We should probably start out [trailing] 2-0 the next time we play,” Marr said. “The last two weeks, we start off 2-0 and then roll off some goals.”
The goals came for UAlbany shortly after. Seth Oakes fed Adam Osika for the Great Danes’ first goal. After a Riorden save gave UAlbany an opportunity in transition, Connor Fields went around the Cornell net and scored to tie the game at two.
A minute later, John Maloney got a pass from Lyle Thompson and beat Cornell goalkeeper Christian Knight to give UAlbany a 3-2 lead. The Great Danes wouldn’t relinquish the lead after that.
After Riorden made yet another save, one of six in the first quarter, Matt Bertrams stepped into a long shot and scored to double UAlbany’s lead, which would only grow in size.
Thompson fed Oakes for another UAlbany goal to close out the first quarter. After one, UAlbany led 5-2 despite losing 7 of 8 faceoffs.
“When you’re playing defense that much, you really have to dig in,” Marr said. “We played really solid defense.”
The defense prevailed in the second quarter, as UAlbany killed off a penalty in the opening minutes. Fields scored a goal to keep momentum on UAlbany’s side soon after, before UAlbany had a man advantage.
On the man advantage, Tim Cox set up Thompson to shoot, and Thompson didn’t miss. The goals kept coming when Fields scored a minute later. Fields finished with four goals on the day for a total of 60 on the season.
“When we’re playing Albany lacrosse,” Fields said. “This team can go as far as we want as long as we play our game.”
Thompson added to his team-leading point total when he made a bounce pass to Maloney, who bounced a shot past Knight to extend UAlbany’s run.
With another man advantage, Jake Cullen found the back of the net for the Great Danes.
Later, Thompson scored UAlbany’s 11th unanswered goal from long range. The UAlbany run finally ended when Matt Donovan got one past Riorden to cut the UAlbany lead to 11-3 going into halftime.
“It’s a team game. Sometimes it’s my teammates picking me up and sometimes it’s me picking my teammates up,” Thompson said. “At times, [my teammates] make me look good, all credit goes to them.”
Cornell’s offense awoke in the third, but just when it looked like the Big Red were getting closer, UAlbany answered. With the buzzer running toward zero, Riorden’s heroic shot put the final nail in Cornell’s coffin.
“I was telling him to shoot,” Thompson said of the play. Thompson mentioned that an omen from practice helped him get ready for Riorden’s run.
“Yesterday, we were running a fast break drill and [Riorden] comes running down at the end of practice, passes it to me, and me, Seth [Oakes], and Connor [Fields] are all like, ‘Don’t pass it to Blaze.’ So we pass it around, make it look like we’ll pass to him and eventually we don’t,” Thompson said. “He gets mad at us. He’s all tired at the end of practice. He’s like, ‘Tomorrow, I’m not passing to you guys. When I come down, I’m not passing.’ So of course, he comes down and does that.”
In the fourth quarter, UAlbany got goals from Cox, Thompson, Eccles, and Oakes to seal a trip to Denver for the NCAA Quarterfinals next weekend.
Riorden finished with 19 saves in the win. With three goals and six assists, Lyle Thompson tied the NCAA DI record in assists with 221 in his career. Derrick Eccles and John Maloney each added a pair of goals.
Attendance for the game was 3,044, many of whom wore purple and gold.
For the Big Red, Connor Buczek finished with two goals and Matt Donovan added a goal and two assists in the loss. Knight finished with 19 saves.
Up next, UAlbany will travel to Denver for a rematch against 1-seed Notre Dame in the NCAA Quarterfinals. Last season, Notre Dame ended UAlbany’s season in the overtime of the NCAA Quarterfinals. Now, the Great Danes will seek revenge at Mile High Stadium on Saturday, May 16.