February 22, 2014

Yale Defense Proves Mettle, Tames St. John's

by James Badas | LaxMagazine.com | Live Blog Replay

 

NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- Sometimes Mother Nature has her say on the outcome, and she certainly had some influence on the past two men's lacrosse meetings between Yale and St. John's.

Last year's matchup, a 10–9 victory for the Red Storm in Queens, N.Y., saw less-than-stellar conditions. Saturday, on the other hand, was a beautiful day at Reese Stadium, as the No. 12 Bulldogs -- which came up just short of an NCAA final four appearance last year -- opened its 2014 season with a 10-6 victory over No. 18 St. John's.

"Everyone was kind of pissed off at what happened last year," Yale attackman Brandon Mangan said. "It was a crappy day out, raining and everything, tight game back-and-forth the whole way. To come out here today on a beautiful day and get a 'W,' it feels unbelievable."

Mangan, a senior and Yale's top returning playmaker and sophomore Michael Bonacci scored two goals apiece. The output from Bonacci may have come as a surprise to some, as his two goals are half of what he scored all last season in 17 games.

"We put a lot of pressure on him and we challenge him," Yale coach Andy Shay said. "He certainly responded. I was happy for him that his hard work the past week showed on the field."

For Bonacci, though, the only statistic that mattered was the win.

"I'm not worried about myself really," Bonacci said. "We need to be unselfish. As long as we really work together and move the ball, it's no one guy that's going to do anything for us. It's going to take six guys on offense to score a goal."

Yale withstood a quick start from St. John's (1-1) that included two Red Storm goals within the first seven minutes. St. John's prolific offense began to stall at that point, however, as it did not score again for more than 19 minutes.

Red Storm senior Kieran McArdle had a game-high five points, including two second-half goals that provided some hope for a St. John's comeback. But once Yale gained the lead early in the second quarter, there was no turning back. The Bulldogs outscored the Red Storm 7–3 in the second and third quarters to pull away, highlighted by a goal from captain long-stick midfielder Jimmy Craft.

Minutes after Craft had earned an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the aftermath of a Red Storm goal, Craft took the ball in transition and darted from midfield all the way to the opposing crease before firing a low rocket that bounced past St. John's goalkeeper Joseph Danaher.

The goal put Yale ahead 8–4 and took the wind out of the Red Storm's sails.

Perhaps the story of the game, though, was the play of Yale's defense.

Having lost two of its premier defensemen, Peter Johnson and Michael McCormack, to graduation, there have been question marks as to how the defense would come together, in a critical year following the Bulldog's heartbreaking end in the NCAA quarterfinals to eventual runner-up Syracuse last season.

The team figured to rely on faceoff specialist Dylan Levings to control possession and keep the ball in the opposing half, and Levings certainly did his job. Levings, who finishing seventh in the nation last year in faceoff win percentage, won 13 of 19 faceoffs Saturday.

But his play did not act as a cover-up for the Bulldog defense.

Rather, the defense for Yale proved itself to be as formidable as Shay could have hoped, especially against the Red Storm. St. John's attack unit of the Tewaaraton candidate McArdle, Kevin Cernuto and Colin Keegan, is one of the best in the country -- behind perhaps only Albany's Thompson trio.

Cernuto and Keegan were held to a point apiece Saturday

"Clearly they held the second-best attack in the country to six goals, so obviously it's not that big of a problem," Mangan said. "We've been trying to say that the whole time, all during fall and everything we were like, ' We have a really good defense,' and they proved it out here today."

Yale goalkeeper Eric Natale made 10 saves, including three big-time stops in the fourth that quelled any thoughts of a St. John's comeback.

"I thought he was clutch in the fourth, for sure," Shay said.

If the defense can maintain such excellence, and Shay can earn contributions offensively from some of the younger Bulldogs such as Bonacci, Yale may have a chance to put together an even better campaign than last year.

St. John's has been turnover-prone in its first two games. The Red Storm scorers were positioned in front of the Yale net all day long, but could not get consistent scoring opportunities.

Both teams return to action next Saturday. St. John's faces Siena, while Yale plays Bryant.


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