Worth the Wait: Cornell Dominates Rutgers Before, After Delay En Route to NCAA Final

PHOTO BY RICH BARNES


EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — Cornell waited almost a decade to make its return to Memorial Day weekend. And this season’s Big Red had gone nearly two years between games when it opened its schedule back in February.

So what was a lightning delay of more than three-and-a-half hours going to mean to these guys? Clearly not much.

Seventh-seeded Cornell dominated in the first half before thunderstorms brought things to a halt, and then used transition to help control the third quarter on the way to a 17-10 victory over sixth-seeded Rutgers at soggy Rentschler Field.

“The season stopped in 2020 and not having a season in 2021, there’s been a lot of stopping and going, so we’re used to it,” said attackman John Piatelli, who tied Mike French’s 46-year-old school record for goals in a season with 65.

Piatelli had five goals and an assist, Michael Long added four goals and an assist and Chayse Ierlan snagged 15 saves for the Big Red (14-4), which advanced to the title game for the first time since 2009.

Hugh Kelleher and CJ Kirst both scored three times for Cornell, which is seeking its first championship since 1977. The Big Red will face either top-seeded Maryland or fifth-seeded Princeton in Monday’s final.

“There was a lot of complementary lacrosse out there,” Ierlan said. “The offense got rolling and then our defense got a stop, and I think we just built off each other and built a good lead. Coming out of the delay, it was more of the same — a game-to-one mentality.”

Mitch Bartolo and Brian Cameron both scored twice for the Scarlet Knights (15-4), who were making their first appearance on championship weekend.

The 3-hour, 38-minute delay seemed fortuitous for Rutgers, if only because things couldn’t get much worse for the Scarlet Knights than they were in the first half. Cornell built an 8-3 lead entering the (lengthy) break, but the way the Big Red handled things was more jarring than the actual margin.

The Big Red got a pair of first-quarter goals off basic pick plays, exploiting Rutgers’ miscommunication issues to earn clear looks.

Hugh Kelleher twice roamed into time-and-room situations with a short stick trailing, easily beating goalie Colin Kirst (13 saves) for goals.

And most pointedly, the Scarlet Knights badly bungled a pair of clears in a span of a little more than four minutes, with Long picking up ground balls and beating Kirst one-on-one in front of the crease both times for goals.

Rutgers began the day as the nation’s best clearing team at 91.3 percent, but was 15 of 20 against the Big Red. The five failed clears were a season-high.

“They were just a step quicker and just on top of it,” Kirst said. “Including myself, I think we definitely were not as clean as we wanted to be and that’s going to come back and bite you in the butt this time of the year.”

Added Rutgers coach Brian Brecht: “I don’t know if we played the best Rutgers lacrosse today that we needed to to have success."







Only the delay didn’t meaningfully change anything. The Scarlet Knights closed within 8-4 on a Ryan Gallagher goal a few minutes into the second half (with Rutgers leading scorer Ross Scott, bedeviled all afternoon by Cornell defenseman Gavin Adler, getting the first of his two assists on the play).

Cornell then rattled off the next six goals to pull away.

It ensured a hollow ending to what had otherwise been a breakthrough for the Scarlet Knights, who had won just two NCAA tournament games in nine trips prior to last season’s quarterfinal appearance. Rutgers took another step forward in 2021 — but Cornell emphatically denied it the chance to take another.

“When I came here to Rutgers in the fall of 2017, we were still in search of just making the tourney for the first time in a long time,” Gallagher said. “Now we’ve done that in back-to-back years and really raised the bar some more.”

Cornell has navigated a two-game slide in April, an early deficit in a first-round game against Ohio State before a weather delay altered the course of that contest and now the first lightning stoppage in the semifinals since Johns Hopkins edged Virginia in overtime in 2005 as windy and frantic conditions gave way to an unforgettable finish.

This game didn’t feature an undefeated team, like Hopkins in ’05. And it didn’t have the visuals of teams trying to play through a maelstrom as hot dog wrappers swirled and pizza boxes bounced around, just an elongated halftime.

It will be best remembered simply for a long delay and how thoroughly Cornell was prepared for a moment it had long awaited.

Which is just fine for the Big Red.

“It was nice to know we had done it before,” said Cornell coach Connor Buczek, who at age 28 became the youngest coach to lead a team to the national title game. “The key especially on this stage, there’s just a lot of anxiety that kind of happens when you sit and wait, and from that comes a challenge. Kudos to our leadership for how they managed it.”

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