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Men's Lacrosse | Tufts clinches top seed with 10-6 victory

Published: Monday, April 23, 2012

Updated: Monday, April 23, 2012 07:04

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Virginia Bledsoe / The Tufts Daily Archives

Senior co-captain Sean Kirwan, the Jumbos’ leading goal-scorer last year who recently returned from injury, had his first multi-point game of the season on Saturday, finding the net four times in a 10-6 win over Wesleyan.

On Saturday, the No. 5 men’s lacrosse team earned its seventh consecutive victory, beating NESCAC rival Wesleyan, 10-6. Meanwhile, Trinity fell to Hamilton, allowing Tufts to lock up the conference’s top spot for the second year in a row, securing home-field advantage throughout the NESCAC tournament, which begins this weekend. 

The Jumbos did not make it easy on themselves in the early going, falling behind 1-0 in the first two minutes and 2-0 later in the first period while their offense remained silent.

“We came out a little flat on defense, and it definitely showed in those first two goals,” said sophomore defenseman Dan Alles, who picked up five ground balls and forced two turnovers on the day. “We weren’t communicating the slides very well, and we gave them a couple really easy looks.”

But after going scoreless for over 22 minutes of play, it was Tufts’ defense that finally managed to jolt the offense. Junior pole Matt Callahan fed sophomore attackman Beau Wood, who scored Tufts’ first goal with 6:59 remaining in the second.

The attack gradually hit its stride behind the work of Wood — who factored in all three of Tufts’ first-half points — but still went into the halftime break trailing 4-3. Despite the slow start, the Jumbos were not concerned.

“Coach [Mike Daly] approached the [halftime] huddle very calmly,” Alles said. “He wasn’t worried at all and neither were we. Coach always tells us that lacrosse is a game of runs. We knew what we had to do. It was just a matter of executing it.”

“Offensively, it took us a little while to get used to their zone,” senior co-captain attackman Sean Kirwan added. “But we were getting some great looks early on that we didn’t capitalize on, so we weren’t too worried. We knew that if we just stuck with it and kept creating those scoring chances we would be fine.”

It didn’t take long. Including senior co-captain midfielder Kevin McCormick’s goal 2:58 before intermission, Tufts scored seven unanswered over the course of the next 19 minutes of play, taking a 9-4 lead and never looking back. 

Most encouraging for the Jumbos, who have aspirations of reaching the national championship game for a third straight year, was that four of their goals came from Kirwan, last year’s leading goal-scorer. Saturday marked Kirwan’s first multi-point game of the season, 12 days after he stepped on the field for the first time following a severe ankle sprain that had kept him inactive. All but one of those goals were assisted, a sign that the Jumbos’ offense is clicking just in time for the NESCAC tournament.

Although Tufts let up two goals late in the fourth to produce the final 10-6 tally, the Jumbos’ defense was stellar all day. The Jumbos caused 14 turnovers, picked up 36 ground balls to the Cardinals’ 27, and completed 26 of 28 clears, all while committing just one penalty, which came in the first period. Sophomore keeper Patton Watkins was crucial in preserving the lead, making seven of his 10 saves in the fourth quarter. 

Overall, the victory was not only a testament to Tufts’ talent, but also evidence of the fact that, even late in the season, the team is still improving.

On Wednesday night, the squad will be put to the test once more against No. 16 Bowdoin, which handed Tufts its first and only conference loss last season in an almost identical late-season matchup. This year, the Polar Bears have had a quintessential up-and-down season in the NESCAC. While they are currently tied with Trinity for second place with three losses, their results are difficult to make sense of. They have not beaten any conference opponent by more than four goals, and took a beating from bottom-feeder Bates 11-5 at the beginning of the month. Last week, the Polar Bears only narrowly defeated the Cardinals, 7-5. 

Nonetheless, Bowdoin is a defensive threat that has allowed more than 11 goals just once all season — against Amherst over spring break — and will certainly make Tufts work to keep its seven-game double-digit scoring streak alive.

The Polar Bears also feature the league’s second-best faceoff man in senior Brendan Hughes, who boasts a win percentage of .611. Tufts’ senior specialist Nick Rhoads, meanwhile, has a percentage of .597 and has won more total faceoffs than Hughes this season. Under the lights at Bello Field, whichever team obtains more possessions off the whistle will have an advantage.

Offensively, Tufts should have the upper hand. Even without Kirwan, the Jumbos have three of the league’s top 10 scorers, including Wood, who ranks first with 44 points on the season. Bowdoin has just one top-10 man in senior Mark Flibotte, who sits ninth in the league with 29 points. The Polar Bears have no true feeder to counteract Tufts freshman Cole Bailey behind the net, who leads the league with 24 assists.

If the Jumbos take care of business on Wednesday, they will not only avenge last year’s loss, but also win their eighth straight game to maintain momentum heading into the NESCAC tournament.

“The team’s really excited,” Alles said. “I know everyone gets that bitter taste in their mouth when they think about losing this game last year. It is so important to be playing your best lacrosse in this part of the season, and the fact that they beat us last season puts a little more pressure on us to produce. But with that being said, it’s just another game. Nothing changes, we just need to go out and do our job.”

“We are excited to have another great opportunity to play a competitive NESCAC opponent like Bowdoin,” Kirwan added. “They are a great team, and we know Wednesday will be a battle.”

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