Bolstered by a rejuvenated offense and a superb 22-save performance from senior goaltender Sam Jakimo, the men’s lacrosse team eked out a 12-11 victory at Middlebury last weekend, snapping a two-game losing streak in the process. The Jeffs – No. 13 in the national rankings – improved their record to 8-2 (4-2 NESCAC) and now sit one game behind Trinity (5-1) and Tufts (5-1) at the top of the conference standings.
Historically, Amherst has struggled mightily against Middlebury in lacrosse, but the tide has reversed in recent years. In last year’s regular season match-up, the Jeffs defeated Middlebury for the first time since 1989, before vanquishing the Panthers in the NCAA Tournament a month later.
The Jeffs, however, entered this year’s contest against Middlebury (2-5 NESCAC) on the heels of two disturbing losses. Amherst suffered a 6-3 setback against Wesleyan on March 28, scoring less than four goals in a game for the first time since 2005. Later that week, Amherst lost 12-6 to unranked Hamilton, failing to score a single goal in the second half.
Looking to get back on track against Middlebury, the Jeffs quickened their ball movement on the attacking end to generate more scoring chances. Amherst raced out to a strong start offensively, netting seven goals in the first half to take a 7-5 lead into intermission.
“Our first half against Middlebury was one of the best halves of lacrosse we have played all year,” head coach Jon Thompson said. “We like to play fast paced lacrosse, and we had been managing that aspect of our game poorly against Hamilton and Wesleyan. Our attack did a particularly good job of that in the first half versus Middlebury.” Middlebury and Amherst combined for eight goals in an action-packed first quarter. Evan Redwood ’12 notched his second goal of the game with two seconds left in the period, tying the score at 4-4 and giving the Jeffs the momentum heading into the second quarter.
Aaron Mathias ’14 and Cole Cherney ’13 scored goals 2:21 apart early in the second quarter to give Amherst a 6-4 lead, and the Jeffs would carry a 7-5 edge into halftime. After Middlebury struck 1:50 into the second half to close the gap to 7-6, the Jeffs scored four unanswered goals over a seven-minute span midway through the third quarter to take a commanding 11-6 lead.
But the Panthers staged a furious rally, controlling ball possession in the Amherst zone for long stretches in the fourth quarter. Middlebury started its comeback effort late in the third quarter, scoring two goals 19 seconds apart to cut the Amherst lead to 11-8.
With Middlebury continually buzzing around the Amherst net, Cherney gave the Jeffs much-needed breathing room with a goal with 10 minutes remaining, pushing the lead to 12-8. The hard-charging Panthers continued to push forward aggressively, netting three unanswered goals in the final minutes to close the gap to 12-11, but the Jeffs held on for the crucial victory. “At the half, we talked about how we were about to get the best punch Middlebury has. We wanted to be able to withstand the punch, and we did,” Thompson said.
Goaltender Sam Jakimo ’12 was particularly brilliant, finishing with a season-high 22 saves, including 14 in the second half. Jakimo made perhaps his most clutch stop in the final minute; with Middlebury on the power play, the Panthers’ Tim Cahill fired a laser from just 10 yards out, but Jakimo denied the chance with a nifty stick save.
“Sam’s performance may have been the single most dominant goalie performance I have ever seen,” Thompson said. “He cleared the ball so effectively, it was almost like we wanted Middlebury to shoot, so Sam could catch it and clear it.”
The Jeffs found themselves chasing Middlebury in a defensive posture for most of the second half. The Panthers outshot Amherst by a 31-10 margin in the final 30 minutes (51-33 over the entire game). Middlebury dominated the possession battle in the second half, winning 9-of-11 face-offs and holding a 17-6 advantage over Amherst in ground balls. In the most important category (goals), however, the Panthers held only a marginal 6-5 edge – largely because of Jakimo’s performance. The Jeffs returned to action last night against Springfield. Each of the Jeffs’ last five matchups against the Pride was decided by one goal, and the Jeffs entered expecting another closely contested competition. This time, however, the Pride proved too much for the Jeffs, who lost 9-6 and dropped to 8-3 on the season.
After Shane Ferguson scored for the Pride, Fox responded with an unassisted goal with 9:40 remaining in the first period. The Pride scored again, this time with 2:21 left in the first period.
Early in the second, Acton found Cherney to tie the game up at two goals apiece, but Springfield again responded with two unanswered goals, putting them up 4-2 at halftime.
Dan Routh ’12 brought the Jeffs within one with 6:28 to go in the third, but the Jeffs couldn’t keep their momentum and let Springfield pull away. The Pride scored five unanswered goals to put the Pride up 9-3 with eight minutes to play and never looked back. The Jeffs fought back and narrowed the deficit to three goals, but ran out of time.
The Jeffs outshot Springfield, 48-43, but couldn’t solve Springfield’s Ferguson, who netted four goals and added two assists. Having lost three out of its last four games, the Jeffs schedule gets no easier as they move into the heart of NESCAC play.
Facing perennial powerhouse Tufts this Saturday, the Jeffs look return to their winning ways.