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No. 4 men’s lacrosse battles back to defeat the Bryant Bulldogs in a first-round slugfest

Falling behind late, the Cavaliers used a 5-0 run to overcome the Bulldogs in the first round of the NCAA Tournament

<p>Shellenberger has recorded at least one point in every game this season, and his 60 points on the season is No. 1 in the nation amongst freshmen.</p>

Shellenberger has recorded at least one point in every game this season, and his 60 points on the season is No. 1 in the nation amongst freshmen.

In their quest for a second consecutive national title, the No. 4 seeded Cavaliers played host to the Northeast Conference Champion Bryant Saturday in Charlottesville. In a must-win situation, the Cavaliers (11-4, 2-4 ACC) rallied from a late deficit to pull away from a scrappy Bryant (9-4, 5-2 NEC) team, winning by a score of 13-11. Nothing came easy for Virginia in its first-round matchup, as the team battled the elements and some rustiness to move on to the quarterfinals.

A back-and-forth affair ensued in the first period of play, with the Cavaliers taking a brief 3-1 lead before the Bulldogs fired back with two of their own. Virginia’s attack — consisting of seniors Matt Moore and Ian Laviano and redshirt freshman Connor Shellenberger — accounted for all of the Cavalier goals, albeit junior face-off man Petey LaSalla’s one tally. This attack has continued to dictate the pace of play for Virginia and has come to play when it matters most. Shellenberger — who found himself on the second-team All-American list — started off the scoring with a signature turn and rip from around the goal. 

A 3-0 run stretching from the end of the first quarter to the 7:31 mark in the second gave the Cavaliers a breath of fresh air before a Bryant onslaught. Seemingly unable to escape a slugfest, Virginia fell prey to three quick goals from the Bulldogs which tied the game 6-6. Sophomore midfielder Peter Garno would carry some momentum into the half for the Cavaliers, notching his first of two goals with 4 minutes to play in the quarter. 

Upon the start of the third, the Cavaliers held a two-goal advantage on the heels of a sneaky finish from sophomore attackman Payton Cormier. However, Bryant continued its theme of playing catch-up by responding with four unanswered goals of its own. Virginia was held scoreless for 9:15 in the third quarter and had suddenly taken on a two-goal deficit, 10-8. Just when it mattered most, Garno narrowed the score to 10-9 in his second momentum-building goal of the day. 

The fourth quarter witnessed the offensive potential of the Cavaliers, who relied on clutch ground-ball play from sophomore defenseman Cade Saustad to catalyze production on the other end of the field. Junior short-stick defensive midfielder Grayson Sallade equalized the game at 10-10 with an impressive unassisted goal, as Laviano followed suit with a ridiculous finish off of a feed from sophomore attackman Xander Dickson. A 5-0 run that started with Garno ended with an open goal tally from graduate transfer attackman Charlie Bertrand — over the span of the fourth quarter, Virginia had taken a commanding 13-10 lead late into the game. Bryant would notch the last point of the day, but it would not be enough.

Moore and Shellenberger shined once again with two goals and three assists each, while Laviano poured in two of his own along with one assist. The story of the game, however, was the play of senior netminder Alex Rode, who anchored the Cavalier defense with 18 saves and a whopping seven ground balls. Rodes’ 18 saves ranks No. 6 all-time on Virginia’s single-game NCAA Tournament list. The defense, led by Rode, also benefited from the ground-ball play of the aforementioned Saustad, who recorded a career-high of eight in the win.

“I’m really excited about how we responded in the fourth quarter and how we made some great shots,” Coach Lars Tiffany said. “Whether it was Payton [Cormier] or Ian [Laviano], just placing it into some tiny little windows, and then Charlie Bertrand too, picking up a big loose ball and putting one away, it was an exciting game, a great game.”

The response in the fourth quarter was highly encouraging as the Cavaliers head into the second weekend of tournament play. Balancing strong offensive play with a veteran defensive unit, Virginia looks tough and tested even with a difficult matchup on the horizon. The No. 5 Georgetown Hoyas — the champions of the Big East and the quarterfinal opponent for the Cavaliers — dismantled Syracuse by a score of 18-8. Keep in mind that Virginia lost to the Orange twice this year.

The Hoyas — albeit not having much tournament experience — will be a tall test for the Cavaliers on both sides of the ball. Face-off will take place at 12 p.m. Saturday in Hempstead, N.Y., with the game being televised on ESPNU.