Cardiac Quakes Lean on Freshman Ben Smith in First-Round OT Thriller


PHILADELPHIA — Third-seeded Penn took a bit of a detour from its usual results late in the season, romping three times and collecting an Ivy League tournament title along the way.

Things got back to normal Saturday with its NCAA tournament opener against Richmond, as freshman Ben Smith golfed the tying goal into the net with 29 seconds left in regulation and then scored 17 seconds into overtime as the Quakers escaped with an 11-10 win before 1,538 fans at Penn Park.

Smith scored a career-high five goals, and Sam Handley added three for Penn (11-4), which improved to 5-2 in games decided by one goal and won its seventh in a row.

“That was definitely not our best game at all,” Handley said. “Cardiac Quakes.”

Dalton Young had three goals for the Spiders (11-5), the Southern Conference champions who fell to 0-4 all-time in the NCAA tournament only after a mad scramble from Penn in the closing minutes.

In its most recent trip in 2019, Richmond trailed by five in the fourth quarter before stitching together a four-goal run to fall 12-11 at Duke. This outing was taut almost all the way through.

“I think in my first couple years when we went to the tournament, it seemed like a bonus,” fifth-year attackman Ryan Lanchbury said. “We were excited to be there and no doubt we were going to go and play our hardest, but I don’t think we all expected to win. This was a different year. We came in here expecting to win.”

What the game lacked for artistry — a combined 36 turnovers in soggy conditions and played away from Penn’s usual home since commencement preparation occupied Franklin Field — it made up for in tension and end-game excitement.

Richmond went up 10-9 with 3:55 to go on Ryan Dunn’s goal, its second extra-man goal of the fourth quarter. The Spiders won the ensuing faceoff, milked much of the clock, then collected a carom off Penn goalie Patrick Burkinshaw (15 saves) to earn a shot clock reset.

The Quakers finally got the ball back with 1:33 to go. After a timeout, Richmond goalie Zach Vigue corralled Penn midfielder Gabe Furey’s dart with 59 seconds to go, almost extinguishing the Quakers’ hopes of deep stay in May.

Instead, midfielder Ben Bedard picked off a clearing pass to revive Penn’s chances.

“Nobody wants to win that game more than a fifth-year senior who just went through what he went through the last two years,” Penn coach Mike Murphy said. “Credit to him, he put himself in the right spot. Not a highlight-reel play, but the most important play in the game.”

Still, the Quakers had to solve a defense that had settled in after a sloppy start. Handley scored a pair of first-half goals while matched up on a short stick defensive midfielder, an absolute no-no for any team facing the 6-foot-5, 230-pound senior. And the Spiders’ aggression got the better of them at times, creating opportunities Penn gamely exploited before Richmond tightened up.

The tying goal was all about two Quakers combining on an excellent play. Handley skipped a low pass to the crease area, where Smith was lurking to deposit the tying goal.

“The handle [Smith] made was incredible,” Richmond coach Dan Chemotti said. “When Handley threw the pass, I was like, ‘That’s going out of bounds, we’re getting it.’ And the way he kind of snatched it off the turf was impressive. He’s a freshman and he made the play. It was a heck of a handle, and sometimes that’s all it is: Watching the ball into your stick.”

Smith wasn’t finished, either. After Jamie Zusi won the overtime faceoff and Penn called timeout, Murphy switched things up. The Spiders were sliding early, and Smith came in high in the crease rather than low. When the double-team came to Furey, he found Smith for the winner.

And just a few minutes after Penn was in danger of getting bounced from the postseason, it was locked into a quarterfinal next Saturday in Hempstead, N.Y., against either sixth-seeded Rutgers or Harvard.

“We’ve been in that spot four or five times this year, so I think all 50 people on the sideline knew our defense was going to come up big and get a stop for us down the stretch,” Smith said.

Only there was belief on the other sideline, too. Richmond’s only losses had come against Duke, Georgetown, Jacksonville and North Carolina, and its season highlights included a victory over defending champ Virginia.

“There was never a moment during that game that I thought we were going to lose,” Chemotti said. “Not one moment. So when in the end we did, I still think it hasn’t yet sunk in.”

The breakout star was Smith, a freshman from Lutherville, Md., who played a modest role early in the season. Smith scored just twice in the Quakers’ first nine games but has multi-goal efforts in five of Penn’s last six outings. None was more important than Saturday’s, when he had a hat trick in the first half and then delivered again late.

“I’m not the most athletic guy, but I get it down there and my teammates find me and they do the hard stuff and I do the easy stuff,” Smith said.

Murphy said he and his staff try to acclimate newcomers to the program, pointing out that even Handley didn’t run on the first midfield in his first few games as a freshman. Smith wasn’t overly assertive in his first fall with the program, but his skill and ability to be in the right spot led Murphy to believe he would be productive before long.

“Some people get mesmerized by people who can shake and run people over and do all that stuff,” Murphy said. “I’m just as impressed with what he can do with his stick.”

His last bit of stickwork ensured Penn wouldn’t endure an excruciating overtime loss like in its last postseason game, a rollicking 19-18 loss to Yale in the 2019 quarterfinals. And amid the celebration, Handley ran past the bleachers opposite the benches with a succinct message: “See you later.”

“Fans were in my ear a lot all game,” Handley said. “I figured I might as well wish them a nice trip home.”

And after another typical tight victory for the Quakers, he and his teammates can look forward to a nice trip to Long Island next weekend.


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