This past weekend the men’s lacrosse team saw their season end when they lost to top-ranked Bates in the NESCAC semifinals in Lewiston, Me.
A hard road stood between the Panthers and the conference title, as they would have to overcome a Bates team that went undefeated in conference play to get to the championship game. Their victory over no. 3–seeded Amherst the week before set the Panthers up for the contest against the undefeated Bobcats, the #1 team in the country and the host of the tournament. In an riveting matchup, the Panthers upstaged Bates and spoiled their historic season, punching their ticket to the NESCAC final with a 14-13 victory. The win set them up to face Wesleyan after the Cardinals’ win over Tufts that same day.
In the game against Wesleyan, defense was the name of the game: the Cardinals took a rather conservative approach, positioning most of their players on their half of the field to keep the score low and keep the game within reach for a late comeback. Wesleyan was ultimately able to close in and cut the gap of the Middlebury lead, scoring three unanswered goals late to take a 9-8 lead and ending the Panthers’ season.
Coming hot into the game was goalie Chase Midgley ’19, the reigning NESCAC player of the week and the starter for both of the weekend’s matchups. Midgley brought his A-game again against the Bobcats as the star goalie stopped 19 of the 32 shots that Bates rocketed off on the day.
The Panthers entered the game “confident and excited for the challenge,” Midgley would say afterwards; they were ready to go against the team that barely beat them a few weeks before.
The Panthers started off strongly with a quick goal from Henry Riehl ’18, followed by a 3-1 scoring run powered by A.J. Kucinski ’20, Chase Goree ’20, and Parker Lawlor ’18. Bates scored four more goals in the first quarter, but Middlebury kept pace with two of their own by Frankie Cosolito ’20 and Kucinski; the score stood at 6-5 in Middlebury’s favor by the end of the first frame.
The second quarter was far more defensively oriented: Middlebury only scored one more goal, netted by Riehl, which was countered by two from the Bobcats. With a 7-7 score that essentially amounted to a clean slate after halftime, Midd came out firing in the third quarter with quick goals from Kucinski and JP Miller ’17. The Bobcats responded with one of their own before the two teams began trading scores, with goals by by Miller and Lawlor answered respectively by Bates to bring the tally to 11-10 going into the final frame.
Every time Bates was able to score in the fourth period, the Panthers were able to answer in turn. In the end, the Bobcats couldn’t mount a comeback; Middlebury came away with a victory to the tune of a 14-13 final score, sealing the biggest win of the year for the Panthers.
After the big win on Saturday, the Middlebury squad had a quick turnaround for the NESCAC finals against Wesleyan on Sunday. Wesleyan sat in a zone and wasn’t terribly aggressive on defense: they didn’t press outwards in order to slow down the game and keep the score low. This strategy made it difficult for Middlebury to shoot by limiting their one-on-one matchups against Wesleyan defenders.
While Middlebury was able to best Wesleyan early on, taking a commanding 6-2 lead heading into halftime, four goals would prove to be too narrow of a margin. Wesleyan was able to score back-to-back goals with a man up on the Panthers in the third quarter, narrowing the margin to 8-6 heading into the last quarter.
Penalties continued to hurt the Panthers as Wesleyan scored two more man-up goals to even the score. With five minutes left, the Cardinals ripped a shot into the back of the net to put the final nail in the coffin for the Panthers’ season. The scoring would end there as the Panthers couldn’t manage to tie up the game; despite another great game from Midgley, who had 13 saves, the match ended at 9-8 in Wesleyan’s favor.
Despite an up-and-down season for the Panthers, the team was certainly pleased with the strong ending to their 2017 campaign.
“Beating Bates was awesome and set the stage well for next season,” said Chris Bradbury ‘19. “It showed that despite all of the injuries we faced, we were still able to come together as a group and beat the best team in the country.”