Stingy Defense, Relentless Ride Lift Cornell Past Delaware and into NCAA Semis

PHOTO BY KIRK IRWIN


Cornell’s stingy defense kept the Big Red ahead for much of Sunday’s NCAA quarterfinal Sunday at Ohio Stadium. A relentless ride finished the job.

The Big Red scored two goals off bungled clears in the fourth quarter, John Piatelli scored three goals and Chayse Ierlan made 15 saves as seventh-seeded Cornell pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 10-8 victory over unseeded Delaware in Columbus, Ohio.

The Big Red (13-4) will meet sixth-seeded Rutgers (15-3) in Saturday’s semifinals in East Hartford, Conn. Cornell advanced to its first semifinal since 2013, and did so after entering the NCAA tournament with three losses in four games.

“These guys never lost belief and they never lost faith that we have what we need in that locker room,” Cornell coach Connor Buczek said.

Tye Kurtz scored five goals for the Blue Hens (13-6), the Colonial Athletic Association champions who were seeking their second trip to Memorial Day weekend and first since 2007.

Delaware, which upended second-seeded Georgetown last weekend in the first round, had its eye on another surprise when it took a 4-2 lead late in the first quarter. But Cornell silenced the Blue Hens for 26:09 to move ahead 7-4 in the middle of the third quarter

“It was a great overall defensive performance, I think,” Ierlan said. “Everyone was making plays, picking up balls off the ground, picking off passes.”

Yet Delaware had one burst in it. Kurtz rattled off three goals in a row to tie it at 7 before the end of the third quarter, setting the Blue Hens up to follow the same hang-around-and-win-it-late approach that worked so well a week earlier.

Cornell had other ideas, and the Big Red’s possession dominance (helped by Angelo Petrakis’ 15 of 19 showing on faceoffs) helped wear Delaware down. Also vital was the Big Red’s ride.







The Blue Hens were still knotted when they got a stop of their own, killing off a man-down situation. But Billy Coyle stripped Reed Kurtz of the ball, and Michael Long picked it up and beat Matt Kilkeary (12 saves) for the go-ahead goal with 10:06 remaining.

The Big Red got another goal after regaining possession off a failed clear moments later, as Spencer Wertheim pushed the lead to 9-7 with 6:49 to go. Coyle dodged after collecting a skip pass from Piatelli to nudge the advantage to three 70 seconds later, and Delaware never seriously threatened again.

Still, the Blue Hens had revived their season after falling to 6-5 in early April, earning a CAA title to reach the tournament for the first time since 2011 before beating Robert Morris (20-8) and Georgetown (10-9) in a span of five days.

“They have a ton to be proud of, for establishing a foundation for our program to compete at the very highest level,” Delaware coach Ben DeLuca said.

As for Cornell, it joins Princeton as part of a multi-team Ivy League contingent ticketed for a trip to New England next weekend.

The Big Red dealt with some injuries in the middle of the season, and a slide that included home losses to Army and Brown appeared to leave Cornell teetering.

But a team that hadn’t played for nearly two years when this season opened has since recovered, and now the Big Red is off to the semifinals for the 14th time --- tied for the fifth most in tournament history with North Carolina.

“It’s a challenge when you haven’t played in a couple years and you don’t have guys who have through a season,” Buczek said. “There are points in a season when it’s really hard. You’re worn down, you’re tired, maybe injured, whatever the case might be. We hit one of those lulls and you know great teams overcome those. … We had to get back to basics. We got back to fundamentals and got back to who we were.”

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