FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — One by one, the stars of Yale’s first national championship men’s lacrosse team entered the postgame interview room with a uniform accessory that is not in the NCAA Handbook. Attackmen Ben Reeves and Matt Gaudet and goalie Jack Starr wore a piece of the net on their heads.
All of the 2018 Bulldogs and coaches carved out a big piece of school history Monday by beating Duke, 13-11, before a crowd of 29,455 at Gillette Stadium in the NCAA Division I championship game.
“My guys are just a coach’s dream in every sense of the word. It’s just unbelievable that they have accomplished this,” said coach Andy Shay, who couldn’t take his eyes off the championship trophy that was on a table in the interview room.
Gaudet had four goals and was voted most outstanding player of the Final Four. He had six goals in Saturday’s win over Albany. Reeves had a goal and three assists and likely locked up the Tewaaraton Award. Starr made nine saves, several of the spectacular variety.
The third quarter was crucial for the Bulldogs (17-3). They expanded a 6-4 halftime lead to 10-5, then responded to Duke’s 3-0 run by scoring two of the next three goals and taking a 12-9 lead into the final quarter.
Gaudet scored a man-up goal to make it 13-9 and Yale controlled the clock with long possessions before the Blue Devils’ Joe Robertson and Peter Conley scored 36 seconds apart to make it 13-11 with 3:13 left.
Then it was Yale’s defense, led by midfielder Tyler Warner (Freeport, Baldwin), who held Duke’s Nakeie Montgomery scoreless, and Starr, who stoned Justin Guterding in the final minute, and a key faceoff win by Conor Mackie that allowed the Bulldogs to hang on.
“We got hot in the third quarter and we knew Duke was going to come out and respond,” said Reeves, who scored 114 points this season, including 62 goals. “They did, but we were able to make a couple of plays late. It’s just an incredible, incredible experience.”
Especially for a program that wasn’t among the sport’s elite until the second decade of the 21st century. “I’m happy for Yale and Yale lacrosse,” said Shay, in his 15th season. “All the guys who played for me and all the guys that didn’t play for me.”
Shay has seen his team’s offensive approach change as the talent matured. Reeves was lightly recruited and became a bona fide star. Gaudet switched his commitment from Syracuse to Yale. The Bulldogs finally have the skills to run and showed their explosiveness by scoring the first seven goals against Albany in the semifinals and the first four against Duke (16-4).
“Yale’s never really been good at up-tempo offense,” Gaudet acknowledged. “Our coaches real ly worked on that this year and promoted fast breaks.”
Gaudet, in transition, made it 10-5 before Duke mounted its comeback to create a tense, exciting final period. “I don’t think my 10 goals this weekend was attributed to anything I did,” he said. “Honestly, I can’t thank our offensive guys enough.”
Two Long Islanders were part of that offense. Jack Tigh (Garden City, Chaminade), who made the all-tournament team along with Duke’s Guterding (Garden City), scored the first two goals of the game and had a hat trick. Lucas Cotler (Syosset) added a goal and two assists.
“It’s a credit to the way our offense works,” Cotler said. “On any day, it can be anyone. I give credit to Duke’s defense, but no team in the country can guard Ben Reeves.”
And no team in the country, except Yale, can be called national champs. They wear it well.