Don’t miss the ultimate foodie event, The Baltimore Sun's Secret Supper

Cornell defense overlooked, but unit playing its best lacrosse

When you play on Cornell but are not part of an offense headlined by two-time Tewaaraton Award finalist Rob Pannell and fellow senior attackman Steve Mock, it is easy to be overlooked. And that is just fine, according to senior defenseman Jason Noble.

“With Rob Pannell and Steve Mock and [sophomore attackman] Matt Donovan, all the credit does go to them,” Noble said Monday. “They’re the ones that help the defense. [Junior] Doug Tesoriero on the faceoffs really helps get the ball to our offense and limit the [opposing] offense’s touches. If you look at the box score, I don’t think Ohio State had 20 shots until the fourth quarter [in an eventual Big Red 16-6 rout]. So our offense controls the ball, controls the pace of the game, and they really help our defense out. In the past two games, we’ve also had players step up all over the field. D-middies like [senior] Tom Trasolini and [junior] Mike O’Neil have stepped into their roles and played their positions well. We’ve just been operating like a great team and operating our game plan really well the past couple games. We’re just getting back to working together and communicating. I think during the season, we’ve had some confusion, but I really think we’re coming into our own as a defensive unit and really stepping up when we need to.”

Cornell (14-3) – which will meet seventh-seeded Duke (14-5) in a NCAA tournament semifinal this Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia – has surrendered a total of 14 goals in victories over the third-seeded Buckeyes and sixth-seeded Maryland in the postseason. It is the best two-game stretch since the defense allowed 14 goals in thrashings of Siena and Dartmouth on April 26 and 30, respectively.

Ohio State and Maryland shot just 25.5 percent (14-of-55) against the Big Red, and the unit has given up zero goals in eight man-down situations.

Senior goalkeeper A.J. Fiore has registered a .611 save percentage and a 7.00 goals-against average, and sophomore defenseman Jordan Stevens and Noble have caused six and four turnovers, respectively.

Coach Ben DeLuca said the defense’s strength is not limited to one area.

“I think we play with a good amount of tenacity,” he said during a conference call Tuesday morning. “Our guys are tough, and they work extremely hard. I think we have a good amount of team speed. I think that’s one of our strengths on the defensive end. I also think we’re very versatile. I think we have some guys that can play up at the midfield, between the lines, and we also have guys that can play down low. … And intelligence. I think when we’re playing at our best, we play a very intelligent, disciplined brand of lacrosse.”

Cornell will face a tough task in the Blue Devils, who have scored 24 goals in two NCAA tournament contests. But Noble is optimistic about the defense’s chances.

“I think it’s the best our defense has played all year,” he said. “We’re really starting to click together. But we were watching film this morning, and there are still areas that we need to improve and areas that we need to fix. So there’s always room for improvement.”

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad