By ANDY KIRKALDY
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Middlebury College men’s lacrosse team picked up three recent wins, none bigger than Tuesday’s comeback, 12-10 victory over previously undefeated host Washington & Lee, which entered the game ranked No. 6 among NCAA Division III squads.
The 4-1 Panthers trailed at the half, 5-3, but took charge with a 6-3 third quarter on the way to a win over the 8-1 Generals.
Coach Dave Campbell called it his team’s most complete effort, particularly by the all-new defensive starting unit of senior Mike Quinn, junior Charlie Schopp and freshman Matt Rayner.
“That’s the best team we’ve played,” Campbell said. “Our guys played very well ... Our defense played our best game.”
Campbell noted his senior middie and namesake Dave Campbell controlled 14 of 25 faceoffs; that the Panthers for the second straight game earned a big edge in ground balls, this time by 39-30; that his team continued to show good offensive balance; and that assist-machine Pete Smith once again was a major factor, this time with six assists.
In all, Coach Campbell said the victory should give a major boost to his team, which entered the week at No. 11 in the rankings and should move up if it can hold serve at noon on Saturday against visiting Colby.
“I think it builds a bit of confidence going forward,” he said.
On Tuesday, the Panthers led after one period, 3-2, on one goal by Zack Harwood, from Smith, and two by Matt Ferrer, set up by Mike Stone and David Hild. But the Generals outshot the Panthers, 12-9, in the second period, and scored three times to lead at the half, 5-3.
In the third period, the Panthers won 11 of 17 ground balls and Campbell won seven of nine faceoffs to help Middlebury take the lead back. Smith set up Skyler Hopkins to make it a one-goal game, and then Stone scored two unassisted goals to put the Panthers on top.
Smith then set up Ferrer, and Stone struck again to make it 8-5. The Generals rallied to tie the game, but David Hild converted another Smith set-up late in the quarter to put the Panthers on top, and early in the fourth Smith fed Chris Teves to make it 10-8.
The Generals cut the lead to one twice, but the Panthers answered with scores from Ferrer and Hild, assisted by Smith and Hopkins, to seal the win.
Panther goalie Pete Britt stopped 11 shots, while W&L goalie Connor Locke made 13 saves.
Back on March 18 the Panthers celebrated the new turf surface at Alumni Stadium by scoring six first-quarter goals in an 11-7 win over Springfield.
During the first 7:15, the Panthers took a 4-0 lead, including a 3-0 advantage before the Pride touched the ball, as Campbell won each faceoff. The run started with a Teves bullet at 13:38 and ended with a Stone 15-yarder past Springfield netminder Tom Albano (11 saves) at 10:42.
The Pride got on the board when Kyle Louder bounced one past Britt (nine saves) at 7:04. Campbell then won another face-off and drove for a 5-1 lead. Teves capped the first quarter with his second goal to make it 6-1.
Middlebury’s lead grew to 8-2 on Tom Petty’s man-up tally at 7:01, but Springfield scored the next three, including the first goal of the third quarter to make it 8-5. The teams exchanged goals, and it was 9-6 after three.
After Springfield cut the lead to 9-7 at 11:03 of the fourth, at 5:50 Stone scored a man-up goal, and Matt Virtue tallied at 3:24 to create the final score.
On Saturday, the Panthers reversed an early-season weakness. Their ride — defending opponents’ clearing attempts — had been ineffective, including allowing Springfield’s 17-for-17 performance three days before.
But in Middlebury’s 11-8 home win over Connecticut College, the Camels converted just 13 of 25 clears.
In the pivotal second period Middlebury broke up six of seven Connecticut clears and seized control of the game. Coach Campbell also noted his team won the ground ball battle, 45-37, while his namesake helped Middlebury win 16 of 21 faceoffs.
“We had been a pretty poor riding team up until this point this year, and today, our ride, I thought we were on. We turned the ball over quite a bit in the middle of the field, and it generated some goals for us. And I thought that was also the difference in the game, the riding and ground balls,” he said.
As the 2-4 Camels controlled early on, Britt also made five of his seven saves in the first half, four in the first quarter and one point-blank jaw-dropper to open the second quarter.
“Pete Britt came up huge in the cage,” Campbell said. “He made three or four spectacular saves today.”
Goals by Petty (a 35-foot bullet) and Ferrer (on the break with an assist from Virtue) put the Panthers up after one. The Camels responded with a 3-1 run over the first six minutes of the second. Hild intercepted a clear and fed Ferrer for the only Panther goal in that stretch, as Connecticut took a 4-3 lead
But the Camels went scoreless for the next 25:30. The Panther defense stiffened, their ride kept Connecticut bottled up, and Campbell kept winning faceoffs.
Petty knotted the score with man-up goal set up by Stone, and then Hild struck twice. His first goal started with Britt triggering a fast break after winning a ground ball behind his net and was set up by Virtue, and Hild went solo for the second. Stone whipped home a sidearm shot just before the half to make it 7-4.
Petty scored twice in the third, once on a Smith feed, to make it 9-4 entering the fourth. The Camels finally broke the ice at 10:30 of the fourth, but Hopkins’ diving quick-stick goal at 9:37 from Smith restored the five-goal lead. Hopkins later added the last Panther goal before two Camel tallies in the final 2:09 created the final score.
In all, Campbell said he expects the Panthers’ offensive talent will shine as they spend more time on the field together, and he noted that after Bates scored 13 goals in the Panthers’ opener that his inexperienced defense held the next three teams combined to just 22.
“I think we’re always going to be a good offensive team, but we can expect more of ourselves. But defensively I just love the progress that we’ve had in the last few weeks,” Campbell said. “I couldn’t be happier with how those guys are coming along. They’ve got a great attitude, they work hard and they’re learning.”