Men’s Lacrosse Stays on Track for Conference Playoffs

By IMRAN GANDA

“Going in with four in a row is a great start to the second half of our season,” said A.J. Kucinski ’20 last Saturday after the men’s lacrosse team knocked off Trinity 13–12 in Hartford, Connecticut.

It’s interesting that Kucinski said “second half of our season” when only three games remained. He, along with the rest of the team, is clearly unbothered by some of the results from earlier in the season. Confident and shooting for gold, the Panthers are looking forward to ending an exciting season of lacrosse on a strong note to set themselves up for the perfect playoff story.

For the first time in two years, the Middlebury men’s lacrosse team is riding a five-game win streak after picking up road wins at Springfield (6–5), Trinity (4–8), and Endicott (4–10). The Panthers inched their way across the finish line in the first two matches, beating Springfield 12–11 on a game-winning goal by Kucinski and holding off a Trinity comeback attempt to win 13–12. On Tuesday, April 17, they beat Endicott 11–9, outscoring the Gulls 4–1 in the fourth quarter to upend the hosts.

In Springfield, Massachusetts, the hosts jumped out to a 4–0 lead in the first quarter before Henry Riehl ’18 managed to reel one back for the Panthers with just under eight minutes on the clock. Springfield added a fifth before Riehl assisted Chase Gorree ’20 to bring the Panthers within three by the end of the first quarter.

But then, in the second quarter, the Panthers gained a strong hold on the game by outscoring the Pride 6–1. The foes exchanged goals early in the quarter before the Panthers rattled off five unanswered goals to take an 8–6 lead into the locker room.
After a low-scoring third quarter when each team scored one goal, the hosts regained the lead by rattling off three straight goals in the first nine minutes of the final quarter. Just as quickly as their lead disappeared, the Panthers scored twice in 36 seconds to go ahead 11–10. But once more, the Pride answered back, tying the game at 11. Then came the game-winner.

“We had a four-on-three fast break, and we mishandled the point pass,” Riehl recalled. “A.J. reacted immediately, picked up a gritty ground ball, and fired a shot high past the goalie. A.J. made a huge play picking up the ground ball and running through hard checks from a physical Springfield defense.”

And with 59 seconds remaining, the Panthers went ahead 12–11, a lead that held for a Middlebury victory.

Riehl did not mention how the game-winning play began, but Kucinski certainly did not forget that he ended up with the ball on a play that started with Chase Midgley ’19 making a save and clearing the danger with an outlet pass.

“It was just a great team play. We have a group of guys who love to compete — and compete for each other — and a great defense that has the ability to convert defense into offense,” Kucinski mentioned with regard to his game-winner. “We have complete confidence in each other and were all just playing fast.”

On Saturday, April 14, Middlebury faced off with Trinity in Hartford, Connecticut. The Bantams entered the matchup with a 1–6 record in the conference, so the Panthers needed to pick up a win against one of the weakest teams in the Nescac, where no games are easy.
Middlebury scored four goals in each of the first two quarters, taking an 8–5 lead into halftime. And in the third quarter both teams scored three times to keep the difference at three goals heading into the final quarter.

After Riehl scored his second goal of the game to give Middlebury a 12–8 lead, Trinity drove home three consecutive goals to bring themselves within one. Riehl scored his third goal to put Middlebury ahead by two, but Trinity scored with 48 seconds left and won the ensuing faceoff, giving them one shot to force overtime.

As time wound down, the Bantams entered the Middlebury zone and fired a shot. Midgley activated his clutch gene once again to provide the Panthers with a crucial save to stave off the hosts.

With 13 goals on the evening, the game against Trinity saw the Panthers produce their highest-scoring game of the season.
“I think in the Trinity game, we finally saw everything click in the first half,” Riehl said. “With that being said, I think we have more in us and will continue to improve and generate more high-quality shots.”

Even with their best scoring output of the season, the Panthers eked out the win by one goal, the third straight game they won by such a slim margin. The team has won a total of five games this season by one in comparison to last year, when they won one game by one goal. Ironically, that win was against Springfield.

“We have gained some great experience these past few games but also learned about what we need to improve to maintain our leads,” captain Nick Peterson ’18 said.

“These narrow wins are definitely good prep for playoff games,” Riehl added. “These fourth quarters prepare us to play with composure when down by a goal or tied with just a few minutes to play.”

The Panthers are now looking to wrap up their season with a possible seven-game win streak. Their final games will be against Tufts on Saturday, April 21, and Williams on Wednesday, April 25.

With their two final regular-season games at home against top-four opponents, the Panthers will look to end their season on a high note heading into the playoffs.

“Being able to play any game on Youngman Field is an honor,” Kucinski stated. “Finishing the regular season off with two straight home league games is very exciting, and we are looking forward to every challenge ahead.”

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Men’s Lacrosse Stays on Track for Conference Playoffs