The men’s lacrosse team lost its second consecutive NESCAC game to open the 2014 season by a score of 6-3 to visiting Connecticut College on Saturday, March 8 on Youngman Field at Alumni Stadium.
The Panthers jumped to an early lead but could not stymie a string of third-quarter Camel goals as Conn. College handed Middlebury its second loss of the season.
Middlebury started the game quickly, as Jon Broome ’16 was a part of two early goals that put the hosts up 2-0 at the end of the first quarter. Broome kicked off the scoring with his fourth goal of the season five minutes into the game. Later in the period, he assisted Stephen Seymour ’14 as Middlebury converted its lone extra man opportunity of the afternoon.
Broome was quick to credit Middlebury’s strong defense for generating the early offensive chances.
“Our defense looked great yesterday, and we were able to generate good transition opportunities,” Broome said. “There is a lot that can be taken away from this game, but it is clear that we need to work on our stick skills and finishing.”
Middlebury was able to maintain its lead, but Conn. College attacker Derek Bertolini worked an unassisted goal past Middlebury goalie Nate Gaudio ’14 early in the second quarter. The Panther defensive unit held their ground in the first half, seeing off three Middlebury penalties and maintaining the one-goal lead into halftime.
“We did a great job of coming together as a unit on the defensive end; there was a lot of communication and people knew their roles,” Defender Geoff Vrla ’14 said. “The challenge is now to play like this against a fast-paced offense like that of Tufts.”
After halftime, the Camels were able to net five straight goals that would give them the lead for good. Middlebury was unable to find the back of the net in the third quarter.
Seymour noted the team’s frustration with the Camels’ defensive play.
“What makes Conn. such a difficult team to play each year is their zone defense,” Seymour said. “It really slows down the game and makes it difficult to score quickly. Conn., in the past, has liked to take the air out of the ball on offense once they have a lead. That’s exactly what they did yesterday.”
Middlebury was able to generate its fair share of chances in the second half, firing off 16 shots. None got past Conn. goalie Bobby Bleistein until Chris Peterson ’14 scored with four minutes left off of a pass from Broome.
While the second straight NESCAC defeat is not optimal for the team, they are determined to focus on the upside.
“Kids were communicating well and playing good on-ball defense,” Gaudio said. “We also took care of the ball in the middle of the field, and it was our best clearing performance yet.”
The Panthers outshot the Camels 31-29 and won the ground ball contest 25-23 on the game. Each team committed 15 turnovers on the afternoon, with turnovers turning into transition points on both ends of the field.
The Panther defense finished the game having seen off all six Conn. extra-man opportunities. Gaudio added strong goalie play – stopping 13 shots in the loss – in a much improved defensive performance from last week’s 24-goal performance against Middlebury by the Tufts attack.
With the loss, the Panthers fall to 1-2 on the season and 0-2 in conference play.
Middlebury goes on the road this Saturday, March 15, for a matchup with ninth-ranked Wesleyan. The Panthers hope that the improvements that they made against Conn. College over last week’s lopsided loss against Tufts will carry over into a conference victory over the Cardinals.
Last year, it was Wesleyan who ousted the Panthers in the NESCAC semifinals in a game that went down to the final seconds. In addition to giving Middlebury a measure of revenge, a win would push the Panthers – defending regular season champions and preseason conference contenders – right back into the race for the NESCAC title.
“Although it was a tough loss, the defensive effort yesterday is something we can be proud of as a team and will be a building block for the rest of the season,” Seymour said.