May 10, 2009

Middle Men: PU's Kovler, Sgalardi Snipe UMass

by Justin Feil | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Princeton midfielder Mark Kovler celebrates one of his career- and game-high five goals Sunday in the Tigers' 10-7 NCAA tournament first-round victory over Massachusetts.

© Kevin P. Tucker

PRINCETON, N.J. -- The Princeton University men's lacrosse team missed the NCAA tournament last year after Mark Kovler and Rich Sgalardi suffered season-ending injuries.

It wasn't a coincidence.

The two midfielders proved their value Sunday, as they led the fourth-seeded Tigers (13-2) to a 10-7 win over Massachusetts (9-6) before a standing room only crowd at Class of 1952 Stadium.

Kovler notched a career-high five goals and added and assist for a career-high six points. Sgalardi added three goals and one assist. The midfield accounted for every point of the Tigers' first eight goals.

"To go out and do what we had to do to beat a really good team, that's what it's all about," Kovler said, "especially after last year when Rich and I weren't able to finish the season. We're just trying to make this one last as long as we can."

Princeton advances to take on fifth-seeded Cornell noon Saturday in the NCAA quarterfinals at Hempstead, N.Y. Cornell advanced with an 11-7 win over Hofstra Saturday.

Sgalardi got Princeton on the board first when he beat Doc Schneider, the senior goalie who led UMass to the 2006 national title game.

"If something is working for us, we try to stay with it," Sgalardi said. "Everybody is unselfish. If it's someone else's day, everyone is willing to hand it off to that guy and let him do his best."

What worked for the Tigers was feeding the midfield and letting them find some shooting space. Schneider finished with 13 saves, but Princeton freshman Tyler Fiorito was almost equal with 12 saves in his NCAA tournament debut.

"Doc, if he's not the best goalie in the country, maybe our guy is, or the one we faced last week (Brown's Jordan Burke)," said Princeton head coach Bill Tierney. "It's tough scoring on that guy. To get double figures on him, and to be up 6-1 at the half, we really felt good about that."

UMass' Jim Connolly scored just over four minutes after Sgalardi for the only tie of the game, 1-1, but Kovler scored four of the next five Princeton goals to build a 6-1 halftime lead. Connolly's goal is the only first-half goal allowed by Princeton in the last three games.

"I really didn't expect that today," Tierney said. "I thought we executed as well as we could. That was a really good team with some really good offensive players, especially Jimmy Connolly. That kid is a heck of a player. Nobody has gone after us that hard."

The Minuteman came out of the locker room strong with back-to-back goals from Tim Balise and Connolly less than two minutes into the second half to trim the edge to 6-3, but Kovler followed with a rocket from the right side and Sgalardi added another which was all that Fiorito would need.

"These guys have been doing it all year long," Tierney said. "They keep plugging and getting big goals. I'm proud of them for where they're at."

UMass wouldn't go away, with Evan Blum and Connolly answering the goals to put themselves in range again at 8-5 with five minutes to play in the third quarter.

Tommy Davis took a pass from Kovler and scored the first goal by a Princeton player not on the first midfield to give the Tigers a 9-5 lead after three quarters. UMass held a 19-5 edge in ground balls in the quarter.

"I can't say enough about how hard these guys worked in the second half, and the effort they gave today, and throughout the year," said UMass head coach Greg Cannella.

Connolly kept it close with his team-high fourth goal six minutes into the fourth quarter, but Sgalardi's third goal with 2:07 left sealed the Tigers' win.

"Ending last year not being able to play and watching our team miss the playoffs, it was tough for the team as well as me and Mark," Sgalardi said. "Not going back to the quarterfinals since our freshman year, we've learned a lot. It doesn't come every year. We're not taking anything for granted at this point. It means a lot to us."
 
Scott Mackenzie, the third player on Princeton's first midfield, had the only other Tiger goal to open the second-quarter scoring.

Now, Princeton faces a rematch of one of its two losses this year when it takes on Cornell, with whom it shared the Ivy League championship. The Big Red won the regular-season matchup, 10-7. The Tigers won last year's meeting. Princeton is looking for its first final four berth since 2004.

"I didn't get to play in the game last year, so I've never beaten Cornell," Kovler said. "This would be a great opportunity. It couldn't be better to do it with the final four on the line in our last opportunity."
 


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