Men's Lacrosse | Not this time: Jumbos refuse to fall again to Polar Bears
Published: Friday, April 27, 2012
Updated: Friday, April 27, 2012 10:04
Heading into Wednesday night’s regular season finale against No. 13 Bowdoin, the No. 5 men’s lacrosse team was determined to avoid a repeat of 2011. Like this year, the Jumbos had just locked up the No. 1 spot in the NESCAC last April when they traveled to Brunswick, Maine, and were upended 15-9 by the Polar Bears.
In the long run, that game did not hurt the Jumbos’ momentum, as they surged back to win their second straight conference title. Nevertheless, losing was not an option for coach Mike Daly’s squad this time.
Forced to do without starting sophomore goalie Patton Watkins, who suffered an ankle injury during the previous day’s practice, Tufts welcomed junior netminder Tyler Page into the cage for the first start of his collegiate career. The personnel change seemed not to affect the Jumbos, who jumped out to an 11-5 lead in the first half and never put their foot on the break, suffocating Bowdoin in a 15-7 rout.
“We certainly got off to a fast start,” senior co-captain midfielder Kevin McCormick said. “We were ready and fired up because it was our last regular season game and senior night. Everyone contributed. That helped us build a big lead.”
The win pushed Tufts’ overall record to 13-2 and 9-1 in the NESCAC — the only blemish was an overtime loss to No. 2 Trinity — as they prepare to host the conference tournament beginning this Saturday against No. 8 Amherst.
Freshman attackman Cole Bailey blazed the path to victory on Wednesday with a monster performance, netting four goals and dishing out three assists for a seven-point night.
“Cole’s been going against the best defenders in the league every week, and he keeps getting better and better,” McCormick said. “We have so many threats on offense that complement each other, and so it opens up a lot of looks. He capitalized on his opportunities.”
Seven Jumbos scored in the game, while junior Billy Bergner and senior co-captain Keegan Melhorn were the only bright spots for the Polar Bears, combining for four of Bowdoin’s seven points.
The matchup pitted two of the NESCAC’s premier senior faceoff men against each other. Bowdoin’s Brendan Hughes, who is second in the conference with a .609 faceoff average, and Tufts’ Nick Rhoads, who ranks fourth with a .593 average, battled it out at the X, with Hughes winning by a slim 13-12 margin.
However, the Polar Bears were unable to convert against a staunch Jumbos defense, which in turn helped Page get acclimated in goal.
“Our defense has continued to play great shutdown ‘D,’” McCormick said. “We play great team defense, and each of them is also so good on ball, we’re able to force turnovers often. Then, on top of all of that, Tyler played a great game in goal stepping in for Patton.”
Meanwhile, Tufts pummeled Bowdoin with a relentless barrage of shots. Senior co-captain Sean Kirwan and McCormick took 10 each in a 50-shot effort, barely allowing Bowdoin’s defenders a chance to catch their breaths. The Jumbos’ 15 goals mark the most scored against the Polar Bears this spring.
While Melhorn scored first to give the Polar Bears an early advantage, the lead was short-lived. Seven seconds later, Rhoads won a faceoff on the run and scored a goal to tie the game. Bowdoin would never lead again. McCormick scored twice and sophomore midfielder Peter Bowers responded to Melhorn’s second goal with one of his own to finish the quarter with a 4-2 Tufts lead.
In the second period, Tufts outscored Bowdoin 7-3, and Bailey had a hand in six of those goals. The freshman consistently burned All-NESCAC pole Matthew Egan, who looked anything but elite against him.
“Cole played one of his best games yet,” McCormick said. “He was going against a very talented defender, but he definitely dominated the matchup throughout the game.”
Bowers capped off the half with another goal with under a minute remaining.
Coming out of the intermission, Bergner tallied his first goal of the day to pull the Polar Bears within five. But the Jumbos proceeded to hold Bowdoin for more than 20 minutes. Meanwhile, Bailey, sophomore Beau Wood and Kirwan tacked three more onto Tufts’ lead, pushing it to 14-6. Bowdoin sophomore midfielder Dan Hanley and Tufts junior Andrew Fiamengo traded goals in the closing minutes, pushing the score to 15-7, as senior goalkeeper Steven Foglietta replaced Page between the pipes for the last six minutes.