Panthers Win Opener, Ernst Player of the Week

By Trevor Schmitt

The Middlebury men’s lacrosse team opened up the season last Saturday, March 5, with a big 5-4 win over their NESCAC rival Connecticut College, followed by a 16-10 defeat of Endicott on Tuesday, March 8.

With the win, the Panthers, currently ranked sixth nationally, continued last year’s trend of domination at home. The Panthers have now won 11 straight games on Youngman Field at Alumni Stadium after going 10-0 on their home turf in 2015.

After the Panthers held Conn. College scoreless in the first quarter, in large part due to the play of goalkeeper Will Ernst ’17 who made three of his 12 saves in the opening period on his way to being named NESCAC Player of the Week, the Camels’ Ross Thompson broke the tie with 13:10 left in the second quarter with an unassisted shot from 12 yards out.

The Panthers refused to stay down for long, however, as Joey Zelkowitz ’17, a First Team All-NESCAC selection last year, responded with a caused turnover and a coast-to-coast goal less than three minutes later. The Panthers kept firing and took advantage of a man-up opportunity at the 7:05 mark when Kyle Soroka ’16 fed first-year Jack Gould ’19 for Gould’s first career point.

The Camels, in typical gritty NESCAC fashion, evened the score at 2-2 with 2:35 left in the first half when Tucker Mscisz scored his first of two goals on the day.

Mscisz’s second tally came early in the second half when he snuck a low burner past Ernst at the 13:07 mark to give Conn. College the 3-2 lead. The Panthers had an answer, however, as Gould fed a pass to Captain Sean Carroll ’16, who smoothly finished to end yet another quarter with the game all knotted up.

Both teams continued to play tight defense in the fourth quarter as neither side could break the tie until Henry Riehl ’18 found a pocket of space at the 8:24 mark and converted on a Parker Lawlor ’18 pass.

The Camels responded quickly with 6:26 left in the game as Thompson assisted a PJ Kelleher goal. At the 5:44 mark the Riehl-Lawlor connection produced what would be the game winner as Riehl’s second goal of the day put the Panthers up 5-4 heading into the final minutes of play.

At a crucial and potentially deadly point with 4:40 remaining the Panthers found themselves man-down for one minute. Ernst came up huge with two saves on Kelleher on back-to-back point-blank opportunities only to make a third on Mscisz, following a timeout from the Camels.

After a high shot with 10 seconds left and an ensuing Middlebury timeout, Conn. College found themselves in an opportunity to win the game with a good look at the net. Unfortunately for the Camels, as was the case all afternoon, that also meant a good look at Ernst who yet again came up big for the Panthers and stopped a Derek Bertolini shot as time expired.

Senior Captain Jon Broome ’16 was happy to start the season on the right foot but he was far from satisfied.

“The first few games of the season are always interesting because every team is still trying to figure out what works, schematically and personnel-wise. Our defense played well and our offense generated some good looks, but we still have plenty of room for improvement,” Broome said.

Riehl, with two goals, Gould, with a goal and an assist and Lawlor, with two assists, led the Panther offense on the day. On the other side of the ball seven different Panthers caused turnovers. Middlebury held a 31-30 edge in shots, while Conn. College won the groundball battle by a margin of  23-16. The Panthers cleared 12-16 opportunities, while the Camels went 15-23.

On Tuesday, Middlebury defeated Endicott 16-10. Carroll led the Panthers with five goals, while Broome scored twice and assisted on four goals.

The Panthers will take on Tufts, the defending national champions, at home on Saturday, March 12 at 2 p.m.

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