Sports

Men’s lacrosse defeats Navy for semifinal berth

Without Tewaaraton favorite Molloy '17, Bears rely on depth to top Midshipmen

By
Senior Staff Writer
Saturday, May 21, 2016

The bad news broke just hours before Bruno’s national quarterfinal matchup with Navy: Dylan Molloy ’17, the nation’s top scorer and the leader of Brown’s high-powered offense, was ruled out with a broken foot. He suffered the injury the previous week in Bruno’s first-round win over Johns Hopkins.

Molloy’s absence was surely cause for concern leading up to the matchup with Navy, which boasted the second-best defense in the nation. But those concerns were quickly dispelled, as Brown (16-2, 6-0 Ivy) built a first-half lead and held on with a gutsy second-half performance to defeat the Midshipmen (11-5, 7-1) by a final score of 11-10.

The win sends Bruno to the championship weekend — this year in Philadelphia — for the second time in program history, where it will take on top-ranked Maryland in the national semifinal Saturday.

Kylor Bellistri ’16 carried the load offensively for Brown, tallying four goals and two assists. Bellistri, the nation’s second-leading scorer, has matched Molloy’s goal-scoring all season but was finally in the spotlight with Molloy sidelined. His fourth goal gave him 62 on the season, which ties Molloy for the most by a Brown player in a single season. Bailey Tills ’16 replaced Molloy on the attack for the Bears and came up big with two goals and an assist.

The Bears carried 6-4 advantage into halftime and extended the lead to four with third-quarter goals from Bellistri and Tills. But Navy came roaring back with a 3-0 run to pull within one seconds into the fourth quarter.

As the Bears’ lead evaporated, Head Coach Lars Tiffany ’90 praised the team for doing the little things and instilled confidence into his players to combat the Navy comeback.

“Throughout the entire game … we knew that it was going to be a battle,” Tills said. “Even when it was getting close, at no point in time were we getting frustrated.”

“When they cut the lead to one, we felt as if we were winning the face-off battle, we’re winning the ground ball war, we’re going to get chances,” said All-American midfielder Larken Kemp ’17. “If we get the ball to our attack, they’re going to make it happen.”

A goal from Brendan Caputo ’16 on the man advantage restored Brown’s two-goal lead at 9-7, and the teams traded tallies in a thrilling final period, with the Bears getting their last two from Foster LeBoeuf ’19 and Bellistri. A late Navy goal brought the Midshipmen back within one, but a Navy turnover with 15 seconds to go denied them a final shot to tie the game, and Brown was able to secure the victory.

With the uncertainty surrounding Molloy leading up to the game, the team remained confident in the system employed by Tiffany that had gotten them this far. A heavy veteran presence and an experienced coach made this team more capable than any of dealing with the loss of its best player.

“Our team this year has done a really good job of taking control and having that ‘next-man-up’ mentality,” Bellistri said.

“It’s a real testament to our coaches and our captains, as well as our senior leadership,” Kemp said. “For a lot of teams, losing a first-team All-American type guy would be pretty rattling. I think it shows the depth.”

Brown dominated possession for most of the game, thanks in part to face-off man Will Gural ’16, who won 18 of 24 faceoffs. But Navy kept the game close thanks to a heroic performance from goaltender John Connors. Connors made 21 saves, robbing the Bears in point-blank chances on several occasions.

The team continued to win ground balls and face-offs in the second half, which allowed for continuous pressure on Connors.

“We felt like we were trusting in the system, and that was getting us really good looks at the net,” Tills said. “Our mentality was, regardless of how the goalie plays, it’s just about trying to get in good spots and execute what we put in place.”

All-American goalie and national save percentage leader Jack Kelly ’16 made 12 saves on the day, extending his school record for career saves to 659.

The game was played in front of an electric crowd of 11,012 at Brown Stadium, as the football venue hosted its first lacrosse game since 1996. Mixed into the crowd was a large student section, even as residence halls closed for the summer and finals period ended Friday. Starting with the win over top-ranked Yale and moving into the post-season, the team has enjoyed large crowds, culminating with the huge turnout against the Midshipmen.

“It was incredible to say the least,” Bellistri said. “It’s great to have that support, I don’t think any of us have played in front of that many people.”

“I know a lot of students don’t feel as strongly about athletics as others, but to look up in the stands and see thousands of Brown people, not just student-athletes, it means the world to us,” Kemp said. “It honestly carried us over that final stretch, and I hope they know how appreciative we are.”

Tiffany said in a pre-game interview that Molloy saw a specialist this week and all but assured that his season is done. Given the slim chance that he returns, Molloy will likely fall seven points short of the single-season scoring record. He remains a finalist for the Tewaaraton Award, given to the best player in college lacrosse, but it remains to be seen how his absence from Brown’s final games will affect his chances of winning the award. The selection committee considers both regular season and playoff performance, but only one of the four other men’s finalists is still in the tournament: Notre Dame’s Matt Landis.

With or without Molloy, Brown will have its hands full against Maryland, a perennial powerhouse which secured its third-straight semifinal appearance with a 13-7 win over eighth-seeded Syracuse. The team has had a chance to watch Maryland on national TV multiple times over the course of the year, and it is fully aware of the challenge that lies ahead.

“We know they’re a tremendous team,” Tills said. “Their defense is second to none in many people’s eyes.”

The Terrapins are well-known for a slow and deliberate style of play, which should contrast heavily with the run-and-gun style used by the Bears. They rank fifth in the country defensively, allowing just 7.72 goals per game, while Bruno’s top-ranked offense scores 16.44 goals per game. But once again, it all comes down to trusting the system.

“We believe in our system and we believe in our pace,” Kemp said. “We really believe we can make anyone play at our tempo, and we’re going to bring that style to Philadelphia.”