Men’s lax: Tufts is next
OK, bring on the Jumbos.
On Wednesday at 4 p.m., the 13-5 Middlebury College men’s lacrosse team will face host Tufts (17-1) in an NCAA Division III quarterfinal. The Panthers earned that right by taking what tournament organizers gave them: a first-round home game last week (check, a 10-6 win over Goucher, making its NCAA debut) and a second-round road game against a team they had already beaten this season (check, a 16-8 win on Saturday vs. RPI).
Dealing with the Jumbos, the No. 1 team in New England, no doubt will be more difficult. Tufts won at Middlebury on April 24, 10-5, and defeated the Panthers in the NESCAC playoff final on May 9, 13-12. And 17-1 vs. 13-5, hard to argue.
On the other hand, there’s this set of numbers: 32-3. That’s the Panthers’ record vs. Tufts in the last 35 meetings between the programs. And in the May 9 game, the numbers were hardly lopsided, although certainly skewed in the Jumbos’ favor: Tufts led in shots on goal (26-20), shots at goal (39-33) and faceoffs won (18-9), while the Panthers picked up more ground balls, 36-34.
Tellingly, Middlebury also led, 11-7, late in the third period. Panther coach Dave Campbell has said all along the keys for his team are how well it responds to opponents’ runs and whether it can play 60 minutes. Campbell also said the Panthers played well vs. RPI on Saturday, better than they had during their regular-season win over the Engineers.
And I still don’t think the Jumbos will be happy to see Middlebury blue on Wednesday.
On Saturday, David Hild erupted for five goals to spark the Panthers, who improved to 31-10 all-time in NCAA play with the win over the 14-3 Engineers. Two goals by Hild and one by Russell Banker put Middlebury up by 3-2 after one period. Then Chris Teves, Pete Smith and Hild scored in the first six minutes of the second quarter to make it 6-2.
By the half, Hild, Andrew Connor and Tim Cahill added tallies for Middlebury, and it was 9-4. After an early Connor goal in the third, another three-goal run by the Panthers made it 13-5 and put the game out of reach; in that surge, Erich Pfeffer, Hild and Matt Virtue did the damage.
Banker scored again in the third, and Cahill capped the Panther offense with two more in the fourth period. Middlebury goalie Ryan Deane stopped 11 shots, and reserve Charles Ward played the final 3:34 and added a save. Billy led Rensselaer with two goals and an assist, while six others added goals for the Engineers. James Manchester made 13 saves for RPI.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at email@example.com.