By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — In the back of the press box at Klöckner Stadium, Chris LaPierre lifted up his T-shirt to reveal a large red mark on his chest. About 30 minutes earlier, in the final seconds of UVa’s first-round game in the NCAA men’s lacrosse tournament, the All-ACC defensive midfielder had been on the receiving end of a shot by Princeton’s Forest Sonnenfeldt, who at 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds qualifies as a giant in most sports, this one included.
“Everybody’s a mismatch against that kid,” Virginia coach Dom Starsia said.
That didn’t deter LaPierre, whom most consider the Cavaliers’ toughest and most physical player. The 6-2, 200-pound junior, known around the program as “Shocker,” raised both arms and stepped toward Sonnenfeldt, who was trying to pull the Tigers even with the Wahoos. The ball never reached the goal.
“It plunked me right in the chest,” said LaPierre, who was knocked to the grass by the impact.
The ball ricocheted off No. 44 and bounced to his right. Long-stick midfielder Chris Clements, one of many UVa seniors playing for the final time at Klöckner, sprinted toward the sideline. Clements dived past a Princeton player and was closest to the ball as it went out of bounds, securing possession for the fifth-seeded ‘Hoos with six seconds left and effectively sealing their 6-5 victory Sunday afternoon.
Closest to LaPierre when Sonnenfeldt unleashed his shot was defenseman Matt Lovejoy, who didn’t see the ball hit his teammate.
“I heard the thud, and I was like, ‘It didn’t hit me, but I’m glad it hit somebody,’ ” Lovejoy, a fifth-year senior, said, then cracked a smile. “I’m actually kind of glad it didn’t hit me.”
LaPierre, who has a separated shoulder that forced him to miss UVa’s April 27 regular-season finale against Penn, was happy to sacrifice his body for his team. Again.
“It was just one of those things … playoff game … 15 seconds left … you do what you have to do,” LaPierre said with a shrug.
Next up for defending NCAA champion UVa (12-3) is a quarterfinal date with fourth-seeded Notre Dame (12-2). The Fighting Irish, whose head coach, Kevin Corrigan, is a Virginia alumnus, eliminated Ivy League champion Yale on Sunday.
UVa and Notre Dame will meet at noon next Sunday at PPL Park in Chester, Pa., outside Philadelphia.
“This is the time of year when you’re thankful to be still playing and having a chance to have another week together to keep working at it and getting better,” Starsia said, “and if we can elevate ourselves a little bit more consistently, we got a chance in this thing, and that’s all you can ask for.”
During his long tenure in Charlottesville, Starsia has guided the Cavaliers to four NCAA titles (1999, 2003, 2006 and 2011). His teams are usually known for their high-powered offenses, but goals haven’t come easily for UVa in recent weeks. Since beating North Carolina 15-10 on April 7, Virginia has scored five, nine, 10 and, now, six.
“We keep talking as a team about playing our best lacrosse and being more efficient,” Starsia said. “At some point, you may have to also kind of deal with the reality that maybe [this is] who we are, for whatever reason, and I would describe it as a little bit inexplicable.
“Maybe we used up all our luck a year ago. These things have a way of evening themselves out. We just don’t seem like we score a lot of easy goals, and we’ve run into some hot goalies, and we’ve made some kids look good.”
Of Virginia’s six goals Sunday, two came in unsettled situations near the end of a period. On the first, Lovejoy fired a pass to defensive middie Bobby Hill in transition. Hill caught it in stride near the crease and, almost in the same motion, fired a shot past goalie Tyler Fiorito to push UVa’s lead to 3-1 with 10 seconds left in the opening quarter.
“It’s the first point of my career. Five years, one assist,” Lovejoy said, eliciting laughter from his audience at the postgame press conference.
“But it’s never really been my job. That’s what I tell myself. But it was pretty cool, pretty special, and I’m just glad Bobby caught it. I didn’t want to have to run back [on defense].”
Virginia scored in unusual fashion again right before halftime. With time running out, LaPierre, from around midfield, lofted a pass toward senior attackman Steele Stanwick, about 45 yards away. Stanwick was near the goal, but in front of him was a Princeton defenseman. The Tiger mistimed his jump, however, and the ball landed in the stick of Stanwick, who buried his shot with five seconds left to give Virginia a 5-2 halftime lead.
“You look back at this game, and those were two huge goals,” Princeton coach Chris Bates said.
If Virginia’s offense struggled Sunday, its defense has rarely been more dominant. Senior Rob Fortunato sparkled in the goal. On close defense, Lovejoy, junior Harry Prevas and sophomore Scott McWilliams had few lapses, and Clements was everywhere on the field.
Before Sunday, the Tigers (11-5) had scored at least seven goals in every game this season. They never led against the Cavaliers.
“You felt like from start to finish we were pretty much on it,” Lovejoy said. “We were sliding, we were helping out, and anytime you hold a team with that many offensive weapons to five goals — really any team in lacrosse — it’s a pretty complete effort on D.”
Fortunato finished with eight saves. Fiorito, a senior, had 12.
“I thought their goalie played well,” Bates said. “I thought our goalie was clearly the best player on the field. There’s no doubt. He was outstanding today. Without him, it wouldn’t have been a one-goal game.”
Starsia said: “Offensively, I thought we were aggressive. I thought we were creating good opportunities. Sort of indicative of what’s been an issue with us for weeks and months, perhaps, is that the ball just doesn’t seem to jump in for us. Give Fiorito some credit for that. He’s probably as good a goalie as there is out there and made some spectacular saves. I thought we had a chance a couple of times to separate from them a little bit on the scoreboard.”
Attackman Chris Bocklet and middie Colin Briggs, both seniors, led the ‘Hoos with two goals apiece. Bocklet scored what proved to be the winning goal with 7:07 left off a slick pass from Stanwick.
With 3:45 to play and the score 6-4, they nearly did it again. Bocklet, who ranks sixth in career goals at Virginia, slipped open on the crease. Stanwick fed him, and Bocklet turned and fired a shot he’s converted dozens of times as a Cavalier. This one, though, Fiorito stopped.
“Chris had a chance at the doorstep there,” Starsia said, “but it seemed like [Fiorito] stepped up and made a big save for them whenever they needed it.”
Like Starsia, Bocklet expected a higher-scoring affair. Only once this season — in a 13-5 defeat to Duke — have the ‘Hoos scored fewer goals in a game than they did Sunday.
“We knew they had a good defensive team, and we also knew that Fiorito was a great goalie, but I just felt like we left a lot of shots out there, especially me, especially late in the game,” Bocklet said.
If Fiorito was the game’s top performer, Lovejoy wasn’t far behind. He forced four turnovers and picked up four ground balls.
“He’s not the biggest, strongest or fastest guy I’ve ever had, but he’s on a very short list of the best team defenders I’ve ever had,” Starsia said. “In most of those timeouts, if we’re going back to defense I’m almost always turning to Matt and saying, ‘OK, what do you want here?’ I trust his judgment like that.”
UVa broke out new Nike uniforms for its NCAA tourney opener. The ‘Hoos also came out with a new starting lineup. Junior Matt White, who had been starting at middie, replaced redshirt freshman Owen Van Arsdale on attack. Sophomore Mark Cockerton took White’s place on the first midfield.
At 6-1, 188 pounds, White is considerably bigger than Van Arsdale (5-8, 165). White, who was a starting attackman in 2010, moved to middie late last season when Shamel and Rhamel Bratton were sidelined for disciplinary reasons.
For the season, White is the Cavaliers’ fourth-leading scorer, with 28 points (15 goals, 13 assists). Cockerton is sixth, with 21 points, and Van Arsdale is seventh, with 17.
With White, who had an assist against Princeton, back on attack, Starsia said, Virginia is “just a little more forceful, a little bit more physical … We just felt like we needed to be more dangerous in every spot on the field, if we could be, and so we decided about a week ago that we were going to go to Matt on the attack. I thought we looked pretty good most of the week doing it [in practice]. It may not have manifested itself on the scoreboard today, but I thought we were a little bit more dangerous offensive team than we’ve been recently.”
PROUD PAPA: In one of the NCAA tournament’s first-round games Saturday, Colgate upset previously undefeated Massachusetts, the No. 6 seed, 13-11. The Red Raiders’ assistants include Joe Starsia-Lasagna, son of Virginia’s head coach and wife Krissy Lasagna.
“I went home actually after practice to watch the game with Krissy and [daughters] Maggie and Emma,” Starsia said Sunday, “and I was living and dying watching the game, because it was so back and forth.
“Obviously I talked to Joe right afterwards, and we’re happy to try to help him as he gets ready for Duke. It’s pretty exciting. We’re at the same site Sunday, so it’ll be fun.”
In the second game of the doubleheader at PPL Park next Sunday, Colgate (14-3) will face No. 3 seed Duke (14-4) around 2:30 p.m.