Whether or not the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team can win a seventh national championship with a completely rebuilt defense, six first-year starters and winning less than 50 percent of its face-offs will be answered in May.
In the meantime, fans should simply sit back and enjoy the fireworks.
Trailing but two goals for most of Tuesday’s game against unranked Villanova, the fifth-ranked Tigers ripped off six consecutive goals and five straight to begin the fourth quarter en route to a 14-11 victory at Sherrerd Field.
Freshman Ryan Ambler recorded his first career hat trick and Jeff Froccaro also scored three times, but more importantly Froccaro won 5 of 7 face-offs in the second half after the Tigers had lost 15 of the game’s first 21.
“That is what this team is capable of,’’ Ambler said. “We started off a little slow, but we got it together, made our run in the fourth quarter and played well for the most part. Face-offs have been tough for us all year, but Jeff is tough to beat anywhere on the field and especially during crunch time like that.’’
Princeton (3-0) jumped from 12th to fifth in both polls following impressive road wins over a pair of ranked teams, Hofstra and perennial powerhouse Johns Hopkins, in the span of six days. Floating back to earth to tackle unheralded Villanova (1-3) proved nearly as daunting over the first three quarters.
After holding Hofstra to seven goals and Hopkins to just eight en route to a pair of three-goal victories, the work-in-progress Princeton defense leaked early as Nick Doherty and Paul Mita each fired two goals past former Lawrenceville School goalkeeper Matt O’Connor to help the Wildcats grab a 10-7 with 4:46 remaining in the third quarter.
“I didn’t think we came in as ready to play as we should have been,’’ Princeton head coach Chris Bates said. “We beat them up a bit last year, were coming off a big win against Hopkins and this just had all the makings of a tough go. It just took us a little while to get into the game, but we did a nice job of staying composed and if we got a couple of stops we could get the momentum. We just had to remind ourselves to stick with the game plan.’’
All-American Tom Schreiber (two assists) was held to just one goal, but that defensive coverage allowed the Ivy League Player of the Week Froccaro more space and he responded in a big way. Younger brother Jake Froccaro, Kip Orban and Mike MacDonald each added a pair of goals for Princeton, which was out-shot 44-41.
“(A letdown) was definitely in the back of our minds after Hopkins, but the coaches told us to keep the emotion and the energy high,’’ Jeff Froccaro said. “In the first half we just turned the ball over too many times, and the fact is we just did not have a lot of possessions. That math is pretty easy to figure out and Villanova did a great job. We’re not worried about trailing because we know we have guys that can score and do it pretty quickly.’’