After an impressive 7-0 start to the season, the men’s lacrosse team stumbled to a pair of losses last week, falling to No. 15 Wesleyan 6-3 before suffering a shock 12-6 defeat to Hamilton on Saturday.
The Jeffs (7-2, 3-2 NESCAC) saw their national ranking plummet from No. 3 to No. 14, and now face an uphill climb in their pursuit of the NESCAC’s top seed.
Amherst maintained its undefeated record through Spring Break, piling up victories over Bowdoin, Marywood, Eastern Connecticut State and Nazareth in the off-week to push its season record to 7-0.
The Jeffs’ offense fired on all cylinders during the break, averaging 14.0 goals per contest in the four-game stretch.
Since then, however, the Jeffs’ offense has dried up, averaging just 4.5 goals per game in losses to Wesleyan and Hamilton. Fresh off a successful spring break, the Jeffs traveled to Wesleyan last Wednesday in search of their first road win over the Cardinals since 1998. In last season’s matchup between the Little Three rivals, the Jeffs scraped out a 4-2 victory to snap a 13-game losing streak to Wesleyan (dating back to 2000).
This year’s game against Wesleyan (6-1, 4-1 NESCAC) also evolved into a gritty defensive struggle, but this time the Jeffs came out on the losing end.
The Cardinals scored the only goal in the first quarter to grab a 1-0 lead after 15 minutes. Amherst tied the score at 1-1 when Cole Cherney ’12 rifled a nifty backhand shot past the Wesleyan goalkeeper four minutes into the second quarter. Wesleyan, however, dominated the rest of the quarter, as the Cardinals’ offense exploded with four goals in a span of 8:25 to take a 5-1 half-time lead.
Having endured the four-goal onslaught, the Jeffs clamped down defensively — surrendering just one goal in the final 30 minutes — but struggled to narrow the deficit.
Leading scorer Devin Acton ’14 bounced a long-range shot into the net — his 23rd goal of the season — 3:17 into the third quarter, but the score remained 5-2 for the next 22 minutes.
Amherst’s Aaron Mathias ’14 closed the gap to 5-3 with 4:11 remaining in the contest, but the Jeffs self-destructed down the final stretch, blowing their comeback attempt with three penalties in the last three minutes. The Cardinals capitalized on the ensuing two-man advantage, scoring with 2:14 remaining to seal the 6-3 result.
Lacking rhythm and precision on offense against the stingy Cardinals — one of the top defensive teams in the nation — the Jeffs mustered only 14 total shots, including just eight on net, as Wesleyan outshot Amherst by a 32-14 margin.
The Jeffs failed to score at least four goals in a game for the first time since March 2005 (a 9-2 loss to Tufts).
The Jeffs hoped to rebound against unranked Hamilton (3-4, 2-4 NESCAC) on home turf last Saturday, but the Continentals held Amherst scoreless in the second half to secure a stunning 12-6 upset.
Momentum shifted back and forth in the first half, with the Jeffs emerging with a 6-5 lead despite being behind for most of the opening 30 minutes. Hamilton dominated ball possession in the early stages of the first quarter, and the Continentals grabbed a 2-0 edge after 6:07 of play.
Looking to galvanize the Jeffs, Mathias netted the first of his three goals 1:51 later to close the score to 2-1, but Hamilton pushed the lead to 3-1 with four minutes remaining in the stanza.
Hoping to get back into the contest, the Jeffs scored two goals in the final 80 seconds of the quarter to tie the score at 3-3. With time winding down after Cherney’s goal (his 21st of the season) at 1:15, Acton fired a blistering shot from the left side for a buzzer-beating score.
Hamilton pulled ahead 4-3 three minutes into the second quarter, but the Jeffs quickly responded with a pair of goals (scorers: Acton, Mathias) 1:46 apart to establish their first lead of the day. Minutes later, the Continentals tied the score at 5-5 before Mathias completed the hat trick with 2:49 remaining in the second quarter, giving the Jeffs a 6-5 halftime lead.
The Continentals thoroughly dominated the second half, however, netting seven unanswered goals en route to a 12-6 result. Moving the ball around the Amherst zone for long stretches, Hamilton scored three goals in the third quarter and added four in the final quarter, frustrating the Jeffs as time ticked away.
Hamilton surged to a quick start after the intermission, scoring only 13 seconds after the restart to tie the score at 6-6. The Continentals firmly took control of the game midway through the third quarter, scoring two goals in a seven-second span to deliver a crushing blow to the home side. After Hamilton went ahead 7-6 at the 8:20 mark, the Continentals’ Paul Citarella cleanly won the ensuing faceoff before sprinting in the offensive zone and firing a shot past goaltender Sam Jakimo ’12. In the fourth quarter, the Continentals piled on four more goals to extend the lead to 12-6.
The Continentals won the majority of ground ball battles in the second half, holding a 20-10 edge in that category — an indicator of possession — over the final 30 minutes.
The Jeffs will look to get back on track at Middlebury this weekend. Historically a dominant program, Middlebury has struggled to a 2-5 record (2-3 NESCAC) this season. Amherst earned a milestone victory over the Panthers last year, as a 9-7 result on April 6 marked the program’s first win over Middlebury since 1989.