MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury College men’s lacrosse team on Tuesday bounced back from its first home loss of the spring by outlasting visiting Skidmore, 11-9.
The Panthers, ranked No. 17 in NCAA Division III, are 6-3 overall and in a five-way tie for third place in NESCAC at 3-3, trailing Connecticut and Tufts, each 6-0.
They were coming off a disappointing 11-6 loss to Bowdoin (also 3-3 in NESCAC) on Saturday, and are heading into their final regular season home game, vs. Trinity (1-5 NESCAC) on Saturday at 2 p.m.
Coach Dave Campbell said the Panthers have “shown, in spurts, we can be a very good team this year,” and hopes the fact the Panthers responded on Tuesday to a Skidmore rally from an early 7-2 deficit shows progress.
At times, Campbell said, the Panthers have lost their way when other teams have come on strong, while vs. Skidmore they regained poise.
“Today was a good step in the right direction. We definitely did some things better than we did on Saturday. We hustled. We competed. They made a little run, and our guys came back and made a few plays,” he said. “The thing that I’ve been worried about when we came in is that when other teams go on runs, we’ve kind of folded. And today we didn’t do that. We played with some confidence and made the plays we needed to do to win.”
Campbell said the team still must improve to succeed in their final NESCAC games, at Tufts on April 24 and at Williams (3-3 NESCAC) on April 30. Specifically, he would like to see the Panthers stick to the game plan — “pushing the ball in transition, making good decisions on offense, actually running our offense” — when the pressure is on.
“Everything is mental with this team. Guys know what they need to do, but at certain times during games, they just forget what we’re all about, and they just get caught up in the emotion of a big game and another team making some plays, and they get away from what makes us go,” he said.
On Tuesday, Skidmore (5-4) pressured early in the first quarter, and Panther goalie Ryan Deane (12 saves) made a point-blank save on Jon Hoeg in the first minute.
Then the Panthers settled in. At 5:48, Pete Smith curled around the crease and potted a Mike Giordano feed. At 4:32, Giordano converted a pass that Erich Pfeffer threaded through traffic. In the final minute, the Panthers forced a turnover, and Jeff Begin found the lower right corner to make it 3-0 after a quarter.
Skidmore’s Cory Barkoff and Matt Levesque found the net in the first 5:04 of the second period, sandwiched around a Panther goal by Stew Kerr set up by David Hild.
Middlebury then mounted a 3-0 run in the next 5:23. Hild assisted Andrew Connor, Giordano set up Chris Teves and Pfeffer scored on the break. Then a series of Middlebury turnovers and mental mistakes allowed the Thoroughbreds to get back into the game. Levesque and Barkoff struck again, and it was 7-4 at the half.
Scott Redmond made it 8-4 with a man-up goal at 10:30 of the third; a quick pass by Jack Balaban set up the strike. But the Panthers stagnated on offense, and Skidmore goals by Rob Lutin, Levesque and Ryan Paradis made it 8-7 at 2:23.
Hild then scored long-range goals at the end of the third and beginning of the fourth, and it was 10-7. Barkoff and Levesque each struck again, however, and it was again a one-goal game at 9:45.
The Panthers maintained most of the possession, and forced a penalty. Finally, Balaban set up Hild for his third goal at 5:53, and it was 11-9. Deane followed with back-to-back saves on Levesque, and the Panthers held on.
Skidmore launched more shots, 43-41, but the Panthers had more on goal: Skidmore goalie Flip Bongaerts made 15 saves.
Afterward, Campbell said the Panthers have the potential to be great, but with four games to go before the NESCAC playoffs they must iron out their wrinkles quickly
“We need to get a lot better to win some NESCAC games,” he said. “We’re running out of time to do that. We’ve got a huge game on Saturday against Trinity, and we’ve got to play better than we have in the last few.”