Wesleyan Sneaks by Men’s Lacrosse in NESCAC Semifinals

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Billy Chapman ’13 leads a Panthers' fast break in the third quarter. The first-team All-NESCAC selection scored to give the Panthers an 8-7 lead.

 

With the clock showing double zeros and the final horn having sounded, members of both the Middlebury men’s lacrosse team and the visiting Wesleyan Cardinals celebrated on Middlebury’s Youngman Field. Just seconds previously Jon Broome ’16 — the NESCAC Rookie of the Year, and the conference’s leading goal-scorer — had maneuvered his way into the heart of Wesleyan’s stingy zone defense and, as time expired, unleashed a shot into the lower left-hand corner of the goal.

Pandemonium ensued — Broome and his teammates under the impression that the first-year phenom had tied the game with no time left, sending the NESCAC semifinals into overtime, Wesleyan players convinced that Broome’s shot hadn’t broken the plane of the goal before time expired. The moment of confusion ended up being just that — a moment — as the referees converged, waving off the goal that might have saved the Panthers’ season.

Instead, Middlebury lost in heartbreaking fashion in the NESCAC semifinals, 9-8 to fourth-seeded Wesleyan, denying the Panthers a spot in the NCAA tournament in the process.

“I don’t think losing on Saturday was a function of being too confident,” said Scott Redmond ’13. “Wesleyan was a really good team and they were able to control the tempo of the game. They played us to within one goal in the regular season, and this game came down to the wire as well. I do think we all expected to play better than we did because of how well we played a week before against Amherst.”

After scoring a NESCAC-tournament-record 19 goals in the quarterfinals the week before against Amherst, Middlebury again started the game on the offensive end, opening up an early lead against the NESCAC’s top defensive team. Darric White ’14 and Stew Kerr ’13 each notched first quarter goals while Broome tacked on two more to give the team a 4-1 lead after the opening 15 minutes.

Dave Campbell’s team extended its lead to four late in the second quarter as Andrew Metros ’13 and Eric Pfeffer ’13 scored back-to-back long-range goals to give Middlebury a 7-3 lead with 3:44 remaining in the first half. That’s where things began to fall apart for the NESCAC’s top seed, as the Cardinals drew back two goals before the halftime break. Then, with seconds remaining in the half, Middlebury’s John Duvnjak ’13 was called for an ill-timed slashing penalty, giving Wesleyan an extra man opportunity to start the second half and guaranteed the Cardinals possession of the ball, as well.

The Cardinals carried the momentum into the second half, capitalizing on the advantage to start the half, scoring just 17 seconds after the re-start. Then, 62 seconds later, Wesleyan tied the game as Graham Macnab scored the third of his game-high four goals. Middlebury retook the lead later in the quarter as Billy Chapman ’13 scored the team’s only second half goal on a perfectly-executed fast break. Chapman, a first-team All-NESCAC selection, collected a pass from Panther goaltender Nate Gaudio ’14, raced the length of the field and exchanged a give-and-go pass with Mike Giordano ’13 before releasing a close-range shot that left almost no reaction time for Cardinals’ goaltender JD Dieterich.

This time, however, the lead was short-lived for the hosts as Wesleyan found another equalizer shortly after to send the game into the fourth quarter tied at eight. Both teams were denied multiple goal-scoring opportunities early in the quarter by the woodwork, including a sequence of three straight Wesleyan shots in a single offensive possession that ricocheted off of different sections of the goal.

The game remained tied at eight until the final minute when Macnab scored the game’s final goal with 46 seconds remaining, lulling Panther defenders to sleep before rocketing a shot into the top corner.

Middlebury then scrambled off of a lost face-off to re-gain possession of the ball for the game’s final sequence. Campbell called a timeout with 13 seconds remaining to draw up the team’s final play. Middlebury waited too long to set up Broome’s final shot, however, killing valuable seconds that cost the team an opportunity to tie the game and, ultimately, return to the NCAA tournament.

Despite the truncated postseason, the team made great strides from a season ago when it finished 4-9 and failed to qualify for the NESCAC tournament. And while a number of talented seniors depart, Broome and Joel Blockowicz ’15 — two of the team’s six double-digit goal scorers return, along with a talented crop of juniors and underclassmen.

“I would urge the underclassmen to work even harder next offseason than we did this year, and not to get complacent because of the success we had this season,” said Redmond. “I think this team has a bright future. This first-year class is one of the most talented classes I’ve seen in my four years.”

DAMON HATHEWAY ALSO CONTRIBUTED TO THIS REPORT