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Viewpoint Exciting Ivy League rivalry decided by one goal

May 20, 2019

EAST HARTFORD — The eye black under Simon Mathias’ piercing eyes already had begun to smudge and run down his cheeks by the time he had emerged from the kind of lacrosse game that did honor to his sport.

His Penn career was over.

“Simon is one of the fiercest competitors I’ve ever been around and probably the best leader I’ve ever met in my life,” Penn sophomore midfielder Mitch Bartolo of Norwalk said after his team had fallen Sunday to Yale, 19-18, in overtime of the NCAA quarterfinals at Rentschler Field. “He never has any doubt in any of his players. When we make a mistake, he’s all over us, knowing that he can trust us on the next play. You see what he does on the field. He’s the best player I’ve ever played with.”

So you weren’t surprised by what your senior captain did with four seconds left in regulation?

“Absolutely not,” Bartolo said.

These two Ivy League teams would play 191 minutes and 31 seconds of lacrosse and the difference between them after a long, long spring was one goal.

One goal.

Penn would score one more than Yale in three games, neither would ever lead by more than three goals. The regular-season matchup went three overtimes. Senior Tyler Dunn scored with one second left in regulation to tie and ultimately freshman Sam Handley would win it. The Ivy League championship ended, 12-11. The Quakers won again.

They would not win on this day. Not for a lack of dramatics. There were 13 ties. The lead changed hands seven times, nobody led by more than two goals. After an illegal timeout by Yale coach Andy Shay, Dunn would score a man-up goal with 46 seconds left. And then Mathias, the kid from Ridgefield who by this year had grown into a Wharton School graduate, forced overtime with only four seconds remaining.

“We’re obviously very evenly matched,” said Bartolo, who tied his career high with three goals and set it with four points. “We relied on the heart of our seniors to lead us.”

Mathias, one of the 25 players nominated for the Tewaaraton Award, lacrosse’s Heisman Trophy, would score three goals and add two assists on this day. A four-year starter, he played in 59 career games. He scored in every one, the second-longest streak in the country. Mathias also scored goals in 36 straight games, which entering this weekend was tied for the longest active streak in the nation.

His final goal will not soon be forgotten.

“Listen, my guys are working all game for me,” Mathias said. “They cleared through, gave me some room to try to charge the middle of the field, I squared up with the goalie and put one over his shoulder. It’s a typical goal I’ve scored a couple of times this season and over my career. I try not to think about how much time is left, just get it on net. That part becomes pretty simple when your season is on the line.”

Ultimately, Yale’s Jack Tigh would fall down with the ball, get up and deliver the knockout blow to push the defending national champions back to NCAA’s Final Four at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. And while it would have been much more satisfying for Mathias and Bartolo to return to Philly and play for the ultimate only a few miles from campus, there was a thrill to return to their home state.

“I had some friends come out and watch me play for the first or second time, so that was great,” Mathias said. “Easy trip for the family after putting so much time and effort coming down to Philadelphia and traveling all over the place. I love that, because they are the ones who got me here.”

Mathias figured 15 or 20 people pulled into East Hartford to watch him. Bartolo lost track of how many.

“A lot of my friends, my family were here, I was very excited,” said Bartolo, whose brother Zack played at Notre Dame. “I’m sure my grandparents were watching on TV. The support from them, from the alumni, was unbelievable. I’m just really upset we couldn’t bring one home for them.”

It is no secret how many terrific lacrosse players Connecticut, especially Fairfield County, produces. Penn coach Mike Murphy played at New Canaan. Beyond Mathias and Bartolo, Penn also has Mark Evanchick, Jack Joyce and Finlay Collins from Darien. High school football fans certainly will recognize a couple of those names. James Campbell is from Norwalk while Max Metalios and Will Bergstein are from Greenwich.

At 6-6, 225, Bartolo is a monster lacrosse player.

“Big dog,” Mathias said.

He played three years at Brien McMahon before reclassifying and playing two more at Hotchkiss.

“I was a late bloomer,” Bartolo said. “I mostly played crease attack early on, I couldn’t move that well. I had a lot of injuries. As I grew into my body, I became faster.

“My recruiting was pretty late. I only had a couple offers. When I got an offer from a great school like Penn … I talked to James Campbell. I played with him in high school and when I visited I knew instantly it was the right place. Such a great group of guys.”

Bartolo, majoring in economics, played in only seven games and scored one goal last year before he tore his Achilles’ in warmups against Bucknell. He didn’t fully get back until this January.

“It was a brutal recovery, a very long road back,” Bartolo said. “It taught me to be resilient. It really helped that my teammates and coaches were behind me all the way.”

“I played against Mitch a little in high school, so I’ve know him for a while,” Mathias said. “He’s one of the nicest, most humble people, you’ll meet. He comes from a great family. As his buddy watching him grow, he’s has become an absolute force to be reckoned with.”

A force who wiped out along the sidelines diving for a ball late in the game. He ran into some legs.

“My neck snapped back,” Bartolo said. “It was scary for a moment.”

He cleared concussion and neck protocol. He charged back in the game, had a few more chances, but like his teammates would not have the final say. Yale would.

“Yale is a fantastic lacrosse team,” said Mathis, whose team rebounded from an 0-3 start to win 12 in a row. “They’re well-coached and well-led and exceptional at most positions, but I think we are, too. When you have that seasons can be defined by one goal and that’s what happened.

“It’s tough, but I’m incredibly proud of these guys as a senior captain. We’ve been talking a lot about senior leadership, but it takes a lot for underclassmen, college students 17, 18, 19, 20, to be aligned under guys who are 21 and don’t have much time left. For them to buy in and make sacrifices in their social and academic life to have success on the field is humbling for me. I’ll miss all these guys as players, but I’ve made great friends for the rest of my life.”

And with that the business analytics major will move to New York to work for Royal Bank of Canada.

jeff.jacobs@hearstmediact.com; @jeffjacobs123

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