SMITHFIELD, R.I. – Behind four-point efforts from rookie attack Tucker James (Essex Fells, N.J.) and sophomore midfielder Collins Gantz (Denver, Colo.), the Bryant University men's lacrosse team saw nine different scorers finds the back of the net as the Bulldogs topped No. 14/15 Bucknell, 12-9, in Sunday afternoon's home opener at the Bryant Turf Complex.
The Bulldogs (1-1) never trailed after equalizing a game-opening goal by Bucknell (1-1) just four minutes into the contest, as 10 different Bryant players put points on the board in a marquee victory for the Black and Gold. James led Bryant's scoring effort with his first-career hat trick, adding an assist to tie Gantz with a game-high four points. Gantz scored just once but dished out a trio of helpers to pace the contest. The victory was Bryant's first over a ranked opponent since topping then-No. 9/11 Yale, 9-7, back on April 24, 2010.
"I said it prior to the game and truly feel the same after – Bucknell is a top-10 team," said Bryant head coach Mike Pressler. "They are as good a team as there is in Division I lacrosse, and for us to pull this out, we had to play well in every phase of the game. We had to get to 10 goals, Gunnar had to make 15-plus saves, we had to get offense and defense from our midfield, and we got all that. So for us, that was a momentum victory against a great Bucknell team."
Bison attack David Dickson got the scoring started just 2:36 into the contest with an unassisted tally, but Bucknell wouldn't find the back of the net again until inside the final minute of the first period. The time in between was all Bryant, though, as James and Gantz each tallied a goal and a helper to highlight a four-score run for the home side.
James made Bucknell pay on its first penalty of the contest, taking an Alex Zomerfeld (Port Jefferson, N.Y.) pass and depositing it past Bison goalie Sam Grinberg with 11:03 left in the opening frame to knot the score at 1-1. Gantz gave the Black and Gold their first advantage of the contest – one they would ultimately hold onto for the remainder of the game – with 7:40 on the clock off a dish from senior attack Dan Sipperly (Greenwich, N.Y.), and the sophomore middie earned the assist on the first goal of freshman Brett Baker (Ridgefield, Conn.)'s career three minutes later for a 3-1 Bulldog edge.
Redshirt-freshman longpole Cody O'Donnell (Smithfield, R.I.) waited just 23 more seconds to get on the board himself after a Kevin Massa (Huntington, N.Y.) faceoff win to give Bryant a 4-1 lead with just over four minutes to play in the first. James would assist O'Donnell on the tally.
"A key thing for us is that we never surrendered the lead after that start," said Pressler. "When we have a lead and Kevin Massa continues to dominate the faceoff X, we are going to be tough to beat."
Brock Ghelfi cut the visitor's deficit to two before the end of the first session, but Bryant would respond early in the second with tallies from James and Sipperly – both assisted by Gantz – within the opening four minutes.
"Collins was terrific," said Pressler. "He, like a lot of our offensive guys, was subpar in our Colgate game. But Collins had a great week of practice, and today he played like he practiced. Collins played as well as he's ever played in a Bryant uniform."
Bucknell's Todd Heritage and Thomas Flibotte got the scores back in consecutive minutes midway through the stanza, and each team would score once more to send the Bulldogs into the halftime break with a 7-5 lead.
Senior middie Rob Goeren (Massapequa, N.Y.) broke the silence only 70 seconds into the second half with the first tally of his career in unassisted fashion, but Bucknell wouldn't allow the Bulldogs to up their lead any further, answering that score and Bryant's next goal – James's third and final of the day – with Flibotte goals.
But with 1:48 remaining in the third, sophomore Shane Morrell (Glen Mills, Pa.) netted a man-up tally off a pass from Zomerfeld – who finished the day with a goal and two assists – to put Bryant out in front, 10-7, and Massa made it a four-goal lead 18 seconds later, spinning through the middle in front of the crease to find real estate behind the Bucknell netminder off the feed from O'Donnell (1g, 1a).
"We got three goals from defensive middies today," said Pressler, speaking to scores from Massa, O'Donnell and Goeren. "We had to have that happen for us to pull this one off, and credit goes to all those guys."
Dickson would pick up his own hat trick with the first two tallies of the fourth, but an unassisted Morrell score with 60 seconds to play closed the door on a Bucknell comeback and secured the Bulldogs' their first victory of the season.
"It's been a long time since we won a game in February," said Pressler, whose 2013 Bulldogs started the season 0-8 before making a run to the NCAA tournament. "I make the schedule, and right out of the box here we've played two of the best teams in the Patriot League. Next week, we'll play one of the best teams in the America East in Hartford, and then one of the best in the Ivy League in Yale and one of the best in the CAA in Drexel. We have five very difficult non-league opponents that are right up there with the best in college lacrosse, so it's nice to enjoy a win around here, especially in the early season.
"There's still going to be self-inflicted pressure," Pressler added. "But at the end of the day, to get the first win of the year behind you and get it against arguably the best team on your schedule is so gratifying and just so rewarding."
On the day, Bucknell outshot the Bulldogs, 43-31, and failed on just a single clearing attempt (20-21). Bryant won the ground ball battle, 34-24, led by 12 from Massa, and went 14-for-16 on the clearing game. Massa finished the outing with a 15-of-24 mark from the faceoff X, while sophomore Gunnar Waldt (Freeland, Md.) was tremendous between the pipes, making 16 saves in the winning effort. Grinberg made six saves for the visitors.
"Gunnar has done that all preseason," said Pressler. "He's been exceptional. He's been our most consistent player from our first day of practice to today, so for him to play like that does not surprise us."
The Bulldogs return to action Saturday afternoon, when they take on the University of Hartford in Connecticut at 1 p.m.
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