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Time Runs Out on Comeback as Bulldogs Fall to Harvard 7-5

Courteney Rutter. (photo by Sam Rubin '95, Yale Sports Publicity)
Courteney Rutter. (photo by Sam Rubin '95, Yale Sports Publicity)

McMullan, Defense Pitch Shutout in Second Half

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – It was a game that very easily could have gotten out of hand. Instead, Saturday's showdown with archrival Harvard on Alumnae Day at Reese Stadium wound up illustrating the potential the Yale women's lacrosse team has. Trailing 7-0 at halftime, the Bulldogs circled the wagons and wound up shutting out Harvard for the final 31:02 with one of their best defensive efforts in recent years. Meanwhile, the offense chipped away at the Crimson lead with five goals in a span of 20 minutes at the start of the second half. Unfortunately for Yale, that was where the comeback attempt stopped. Hurt by crucial turnovers in the final minutes, the Bulldogs wound up on the short end of a 7-5 score.

"Obviously, it was a tale of two halves," said Anne Phillips, Yale's Joel E. Smilow, Class of 1954 Head Coach of Women's Lacrosse. "Statistically it was a dead heat. We cleared the ball better, but draws, ground balls and turnovers were basically even. We couldn't get the offense ignited in the first half, but in the second half we came out and just played. We had some unfortunate miscues late, but we played well and we played hard."

The start of Saturday's game was delayed 45 minutes because of the epic five-overtime battle between the Yale men's lacrosse team and Princeton that preceded the women's game on the Reese Stadium turf. Harvard (3-4, 1-2 Ivy League) was quick out of the gate, scoring four times in slightly more than seven minutes at the start of the game. The fourth goal came right after a yellow card on the Bulldogs, one of three costly yellows in the half. The second one led to a free position shot that sophomore goalkeeper Erin McMullan denied, but Harvard eventually took a 5-0 lead -- with the yellow still in effect -- at 13:48 on a goal by midfielder Danielle Tetreault.

That prompted a Yale timeout, and the Bulldogs then began slowing the Crimson attack down. Harvard scored again with 10:22 left in the half (shortly after Yale's third yellow had expired), but after that the Crimson did not score again until midfielder Melanie Baskind notched her second goal of the game 62 seconds before halftime.

Yale (2-5, 0-3 Ivy League) trailed the Crimson by the same seven-goal margin at halftime a year ago (10-3). But while that game devolved into a 19-3 Crimson win, the Bulldogs made it clear from the start of the second half on Saturday that things would be different this time around. Just 44 seconds in, sophomore attacker Jen DeVito fed junior attacker Devon Rhodes for a goal, and two minutes after that sophomore midfielder Ashley McCormick drove to draw a free position shot and buried it to pull Yale within 7-2.

McCormick later drew a charge on the Crimson, but that possession would end in frustration as sophomore midfielder Meghan Murray's shot hit the post. After the teams traded turnovers, a yellow card on Harvard gave freshman midfielder Cathryn Avallone the chance to score off a free position shot at 14:44, and two minutes after that DeVito again fed Rhodes in front for a goal that pulled Yale within three.

The Crimson called time after Rhodes' second goal, but the momentum remained in Yale's favor. After coming up empty off a free position attempt, the Bulldogs got a big play from their captain. Senior attacker Caroline Crow took advantage of a failed clear by Harvard to race in from the midfield and fire in her 11th goal of the year, bringing her team with 7-5 with 10:20 to play.

McMullan, starting for the second straight game, then delivered two huge saves on free position shots by Harvard in a span of 80 seconds -- but each time the Bulldogs turned the ball over and were unable to take advantage at the other end of the field.

As the game clock ticked under five minutes, Harvard began playing ball control. But when midfielder Nina Kucharczyk (whose brother Harry plays for the Yale men's team) saw a chance to drive to the goal with three minutes to play, she tried to take advantage of it. Instead, McMullan came up with another huge save and the Bulldogs seemingly had the break they needed. They called timeout with 2:08 to play.

But after Crow had a shot blocked, Harvard grabbed the ground ball. Freshman midfielder Erin Magnuson provided one last glimmer of hope by intercepting a Harvard pass on the clear attempt, but a turnover by the Bulldogs gave the ball right back to Harvard and the Crimson ran out the clock from there.

The loss overshadowed another double-digit save performance from McMullan, who had 21 stops in her two starts this week.

"She's a very composed goalie," Phillips said. "She has a very disciplined style, and I think she confused Harvard. Their goals came in tough situations, man-up and in tight in the crease. She saved all their free position shots and frustrated their attack, and that helped ignite things on the other end of the field for us."

The Bulldogs also vexed the Crimson's top two scorers from last year's game with some new-look matchups. Attacker Jenn VanderMeulen had four goals last year vs. Yale; Saturday she scored just once while under the watchful eye of sophomore defender Katherine Sherrill.

"Katherine's tall just like VanderMeulen is, and she's also quick," said Phillips. "She was able to force her right. She did a really good job not letting her get a drive off."

Tetreault also had four goals against Yale last year, but was held to one on Saturday as sophomore defender Adrienne Tarver spent time defending her and Baskind.

And those were just two parts of a young Yale defense that limited Harvard to nearly half as many goals as the Crimson scored earlier in the year vs. defending Ivy League champion Penn (13). Of the 16 Yale players who saw playing time on Saturday, 14 are freshmen and sophomores, and the two upperclassmen (Crow and Rhodes) play primarily on the attack. Sherrill, Tarver, Kallie Parchman and Courteney Rutter give the Bulldogs four starting defenders who are all sophomores.

"We definitely came a long way today," Phillips said. "The way we came back in the second half speaks to the competitiveness of this team. They believe they can score. We just needed a couple more possessions."

Yale travels to Marist for a 4 p.m. game Wednesday.