REEVES' 9 POINTS LIFTS ELIS
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – It is not common for a star player to have a career-best performance in championship contest. Ben Reeves defied that logic with a nine-point game that propelled the Yale men's lacrosse team past Harvard to claim their fourth Ivy League Tournament Championship in the past five years.
The No. 6 Bulldogs defeated the Crimson 14-9 in Providence on Sunday afternoon to secure an automatic slot in the NCAA Tournament, where they will likely host a game next weekend. The date and time of their next contest will be announced Sunday night.
Reeves, after notching a hat-trick against Penn on Friday, continued to dominate in the offensive zone. In addition to scoring four goals, tied for the most this season, the sophomore added five assists, and was the quarterback for an offense that scored the most goals in a game in over four weeks. He was named the Tournament's Most Outstanding Player, the fourth Bulldog to earn the honor. Reeves is also now the first ever Yale player to score at least 30 goals and have 30 assists in a season.
Three of Reeves' five assists went to midfielder Michael Keasey. The senior hit the net four times against the Crimson, tied for his season-high. Jeff Cimbalista scored twice, adding to his two-goal total from Friday's game. Christopher Keating continued to be a stable on defense, recording a game-high seven groundballs and two caused turnovers. All three players were named to the All-Tournament team. Jason Alessi also had a big game, scoring twice, while playing tenacious defense as the short-stick.
Hoyt Crance finished with 9 saves across the Crimson, bouncing back after an early shot went through the mesh of his stick. The two-time Ivy Rookie of the Week finished the weekend with 19 saves across the two games, and was the only freshman named to the All-Tournament team.
The Yale defense shut down Harvard's first offensive opportunity, clearing the ball to take their first trip to their offensive zone. After some passing at the perimeter, Ben Reeves received the ball behind the net. He turned to his favorite play from that position, and used a pick to get space from his defender as he wrapped around the crease. The sophomore turned and fired from his left side to get the first goal of the game, his 39th of the season.
Jonathan Reese gave Yale a second possession on the ensuing face-off, giving the Bulldogs another offensive opportunity. The team set up in the zone, passing along the perimeter. Jason Alessi received a pass at the point position, and sprinted towards the right side of the zone. While running away from the net at an angle, he fired a shot from the alley that beat Shaw up top, giving the Bulldogs their largest lead against Harvard this season, up 2-0.
The Crimson responded with a goal of their own, but Reese gave the offense the chance to respond. Eric Scott was positioned at the perimeter, and stepped up to fire, drawing two Harvard defenders. He held back the shot, instead passing to an open Jeff Cimbalista on the left side. The junior completed the play with a clinical finish to the top shelf, and with less than seven minutes gone the Elis held a 3-1 lead.
The two-goal lead did not last long, as Harvard cut their lead in half. After a timeout, the Elis' offense set up another play. Reeves received a feed behind the net, and quickly distributed a pass to Michael Keasey. The senior had enough room to take a step, and fired a shot from 12 yards out from the off angle on the right side. The shot sailed over Shaw's shoulder, and Yale took a 4-2 lead with five minutes left in the quarter. The Crimson responded with two goals of their own, and the 4-4 scoreline carried to the end of the first frame.
Conor Mackie won the eighth face-off for the Bulldogs to begin the second quarter. A groundball at the edge of the zone caught the attention of the Harvard defenders, pulling them out from the area in front of the crease. Eric Scott collected the ball, and wisely found Reeves, who was left wide open in front of the net. Reeves then faked a shot high, and finished low to beat Shaw and give Yale another one-goal lead. An awkward groundball at the other end bounced past the goal-line in Harvard's favor, tying the game at five.
A Crimson goal gave them their first lead of the game with five minutes gone in the quarter. The teams then traded empty possessions, but midway through the frame, the offense was given another opportunity to tie the game. With the shot clock on, Reeves was positioned behind the net. He then threaded a pass through the center of the defense, finding Keasey at the point position. The senior was given space, and took full advantage, finishing his shot low to get his second of the game.
With three minutes remaining, Harvard looked to regain the lead. A wrap-around shot was on target, but Hoyt Crance was able to shift around to the corner of the net, denying the Harvard attackman. A second defensive stop at the defensive end with 11 seconds remaining made it seem like the two teams were content to enter the halftime break tied at six. Instead, Michael Keasey collected the ball behind his own net, and sprinted the entire length of the field, looking at the clock behind him as he ran. With one second remaining, he fired a shot from his left side, and it bounced past Shaw as the horn sounded, giving Yale a 7-6 lead at the break.
The halftime statistics were heavily in the Bulldogs' favor. Reese and Mackie combined to go 11-14 from the face-off position, their highest percentage in the first half this season. Yale also held a 25-14 lead in shots taken. To add on to the statistical dominance, the Elis collected 19 groundballs, 11 more than the Crimson after two quarters. The scoreline, however, showed only a one-goal lead for the Bulldogs.
The Crimson began the second half with a goal to tie the game once again. Great pressure by the midfield in a clearing attempt by Harvard caused a turnover, giving the Bulldogs the odd-man rush. Jack Tigh found Reeves in the offensive zone, and he cut right to lose his defender. With an awkward angle, his shot still beat Shaw, and his third goal of the day gave Yale another one-goal lead, this time 8-7.
Mackie won the next face-off to give the Bulldogs another chance for a two-goal lead. Passing around the perimeter ended with Reeves behind the net. Rather than going for his fourth on the day, he found Cimbalista at the point, passing straight through the zone. Cimbalista then bounced a shot from 13 yards out, and the ball sailed into the top corner of the net. His second of the day gave Yale another two-goal advantage.
Once again, the Crimson pulled themselves within one. But a clean face-off win by Mackie brought possession back into the Bulldogs' offensive zone. Crisp passing spread out the Crimson defense, and eventually Reeves secured the ball in front of the crease. With his head turned, as if to make a pass, Reeves quickly released a shot that caught Shaw off-guard, and hit the back of the net. His 43rd goal of the year put him third on the team's all-time list for goals in a season, and gave Yale a 10-8 lead that carried to the end of the third quarter.
Harvard scored early in the fourth, and were given a one-minute EMO after Liam Kelly leveled a Crimson player in the midfield. Harvard's Morgan Cheek had an open look at the doorstep, but a huge save by Crance caused a turnover and ended the opportunity. Back on offense, passing on the perimeter drew out the defense, and allowed Keasey to receive the ball at the point with space in front of him. He launched a rocket from 15 yards out, finishing to the top right corner and bringing the lead back up to two. His fourth of the day gave them an 11-9 lead with nine minutes remaining in the game.
Back on offense, the Elis then had an opportunity to take their first three-goal lead of the game. Ben Reeves, already with four assists on the day, was behind the net with a single defender. He passed across to the point again, this time finding Alessi. The sophomore stepped into a shot from 16 yards out, and it bounced right before the crease, landing into the net. His second goal, and Reeves' fifth assist, put Yale up 12-9 with six minutes remaining, sending the Yale faithful into a frenzy.
After killing a Harvard EMO, the offense looked to hold the ball in their offensive zone to kill out the remaining time. Joseph Sessa, who already had one goal in the tournament, wrapped around the crease again, and finished past Shaw to score his sixth of the season, putting the Bulldogs up four. On the next possession, Michael Bonacci dove towards net on the goal-line extended, and took an illegal check to the head. He still managed to fire off the shot, and hit the empty net to pull the Bulldogs up 14-9 with less than three minutes remaining.
The scoreline would carry through to the final horn, and the sideline rushed towards Crance to celebrate their second consecutive Tournament championship. The Yale fan section applauded the players as they lifted the trophy for the fourth time, the most of any Ivy school. Head Coach Andy Shay had nothing but praise for his team after the victory, and noted, "I am proud of the players. We had a few unlucky breaks in the first half, but we responded well, and everyone put it all out on the field."
The Bulldogs' next opponent will be announced during the NCAA Tournament Selection Show on Sunday night. Current projections have the Elis hosting a game in the first round next weekend. The team will enter the tournament with a 13-2 record, their best winning percentage since 1990, and a three-game winning streak that was capped by a tournament championship. Next weekend's contest will be aired live on the ESPN Network.