Men’s lacrosse is gelling: Panthers top Polar Bears
MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury College men’s lacrosse team’s sixth straight victory came more easily than the previous five.
On Saturday, Coach Dave Campbell’s Panthers took a 6-0 lead over visiting Bowdoin in the first quarter and coasted to a 13-7 victory to improve to 6-1, 3-1 in NESCAC play. Middlebury’s only loss of the season was in the opening game to undefeated NCAA Division III and NESCAC champion Tufts.
The Panthers have shown a knack for winning close games, but this was their first win by more than four goals and only the second time they led wire-to-wire.
Granted, this is not a vintage Bowdoin squad — the Polar Bears dropped to 1-5 and 1-3 in league action. But Campbell was happy to see the Panthers take charge early on, dominating possession, ground balls and shots — they allowed only one on their net in the first quarter putting seven shots on Bowdoin’s goal.
“Any game we want to try to get off to a good start. That hasn’t exactly been our strength this year, so that was great to see us come out flying,” Campbell said.
Several things that have been working well for the Panthers did so on Saturday. Offensive balance topped the list: Ten Panthers scored, led by Jack Rautiola’s three goals and an assist, Tim Giarrusso’s two goals and an assist, and Jon Broome’s goal and five assists.
“We feel like we have at any one time six guys out there who can score, and they’re all very talented. And we’re a very unselfish offense. We’re always looking for the extra pass, and it ends up in some balanced scoring,” Campbell said. “I think you’re more dangerous when everybody’s a threat, you’re not relying on just one or two guys. I think that’s just something that’s developed over the course of the season.”
The Panthers eventually allowed 19 shots on two goalies, starter Will Ernst (six goals, 11 saves) and backup Gabe Weissman (one goal, one save). Starting at low defense for Middlebury were senior Cal Williams, who picked up six ground balls and caused two turnovers, sophomore Jack DeFrino and freshman Eric Rogers. Campbell praised his back line.
“They’ve been playing really well. We have some young guys out there that are getting some great experience, and they keep on getting better and better. And Will’s been consistent all year in the cage,” Campbell said. “And we’re getting better in the clearing game. It’s still a work in progress, but we’re seeing progress each game.”
Above all, Campbell credits the program’s turnaround from a 2-5 start in 2014 to his eight seniors.
“We have great senior leadership. Half of them are playing significant roles on the field and half of them aren’t on game days. But as a group they’re 100 percent committed. They have great energy,” Campbell said. “Guys want to play hard for them.”
Two juniors combined for the first goal. The Panthers moved the ball crisply across the top, with Giarrusso relaying to Rautiola on the left side. Rautiola fired back into the lower right corner at 10:28.
At 9:43, John Jackson won another faceoff (he won 12 of 19 and scooped a game-high seven ground balls), senior middie Chase Clymer tossed a left-hand shot past Bowdoin goalie Peter Mumford, also into the lower right corner.
At 7:03 Broome picked up his first assist, curling from behind the net on the right and finding senior attacker David Murray on the left side for the conversion. At 5:45, Rautiola set up Giarrusso, who this time picked the lower left corner.
After the Panther defense forced consecutive turnovers, the Panthers converted the second one into a transition goal, with Rautiola getting a feed from sophomore attacker Nate Smith-Ide at 3:46.
The Panthers struck again in transition at 1:38. The defense worked the ball to Broome near midfield. Broom raced down the right side, wheeled, and set up middie Joey Zelkowitz’s 30-foot bullet.
Bowdoin’s first shot came when Daniel O’Berry split two defenders from behind the net, rolled out front and scored with 0.4 seconds to go to make it 6-1 after one period.
The Polar Bears’ Peter Reuter added a man-up score 1:13 into the second period to make it 6-2, but the Panthers answered in seven seconds. Jackson won the faceoff, bolted down the field and set up Rautiola.
David Nemirov sliced the Polar Bear deficit to 7-3 just over a minute later, but two slick Broome goalmouth assists, to junior middie Jack Cleary and freshman middie Henry Riehl, helped Middlebury take a 9-3 lead into the break.
Broome added a similar assist to senior middie Joel Blockowicz to open the second half, and later in the quarter Riehl set up Giarrusso to make it 11-3. Reuter scored his second at 4:20 to make it 11-4, and a Panther penalty gave Bowdoin some hope. Instead, Ernst denied Nemirov, Williams scooped the ground ball and fed Broome near midfield, and Broome went solo for a man-down score that made it 12-4 after three.
With many Panther subs on the field, Bowdoin crept closer in the final period. Sophomore middie John Simms added the final Panther goal.
Moving forward, Campbell would like to see his team put its speed and skills to better use in transition, which he said would be a key element to improve in the final eight regular season games, including tests vs. No. 2 Rochester Institute of Technology on a neutral site on Wednesday and at No. 6 Amherst on Saturday.
“I think we still have a whole other level in us. We have a lot of talent, but we haven’t gotten over the hump yet of playing our best,” Campbell said. “So I’m excited to see if we can get there in the next month.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]
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