Men's Lacrosse Holds Off Late Williams Rally
Issue   |   Tue, 04/23/2013 - 22:52

With its NESCAC playoff hopes hanging by a thread, the men’s lacrosse team staved off elimination with a gritty 10-9 win over archrival Williams on Saturday.

The season-saving victory moved the Jeffs (3-6 NESCAC, 5-8 overall) into an eighth place tie with Williams (3-6 NESCAC, 5-7 overall) in the league standings. The top eight teams in the 11-team conference qualify for the NESCAC Tournament, which begins next weekend.

To get into the postseason, however, the Jeffs will probably need to beat Trinity (2-7 NESCAC) in the regular season finale today at 4:30 in Hartford, in addition to receiving some outside help. (Please refer to the end of the article for detailed playoff scenarios).

Facing playoff elimination in the penultimate game of the season — a loss to Williams would have placed the Ephs at 4-5 and Amherst at 2-7 — the Jeffs responded with a tenacious, workmanlike effort, dominating battles for loose ground balls (33-21 edge) and faceoffs (16-6).

Desperate to rescue their season, the Jeffs raced out to a strong start at Williams, grabbing a 3-1 lead midway through the first quarter. Co-captain Devin Acton ’14 opened the scoring 3:01 into the game. After Williams equalized, Aaron Mathias ’14 and co-captain Ramsey Bates ’13 scored 52 seconds apart to give Amherst the early edge.

Both offenses continued to produce at a prolific rate in the first half, with Amherst and Williams scoring three goals apiece in a furious seven-minute stretch. With Amherst holding a tenuous 6-4 lead midway through the second quarter, the Jeffs’ defense unraveled near the end of the period, as the Ephs scored three unanswered goals to nudge ahead 7-6.

Just as when it seemed as if Williams had seized the all the momentum, however, Amherst’s Kane Haffey ’16 stunned the Ephs with a dramatic goal in the dying moments of the opening half. The first-year attacker scored just one second before the buzzer, tying the game at 7-7 and rejuvenating the Jeffs with a positive boost of confidence.

“Kane’s goal at the end of the half was huge for us — it was great to go into halftime tied as opposed to being down by one and we were able to ride that momentum into the second half,” co-captain Danny Gold ’13 said.

“I was proud that we stuck with it when Williams went on a run,” head coach Jon Thompson said. “Our group never seemed to panic, and we responded in a critical moment to tie it right before the half.”

After a wild first half, both defenses stiffened as the game evolved into a tense chess match between two evenly matched teams. After 8:42 of scoreless play to start the half, the Jeffs struck twice in a one-minute span to grab a 9-7 lead, with Patrick Routh ’15 and Bates bagging the goals. The Ephs kept the game tight, however, closing the deficit to 9-8 with 52 seconds left in the third quarter.

The score remained 9-8 for the first eight minutes of the fourth quarter, until Acton netted the eventual game-winner on the man-advantage with 6:56 remaining in regulation. Frustrated by Amherst’s disciplined defense in the second half, the Ephs scored a last-gasp goal with 1:08 on the clock, but the Jeffs held on to secure a priceless victory.

Saturday’s win improved the Jeffs’ record to 1-4 in NESCAC one-goal games, ending a streak of tight, gut-wrenching losses.

“To get a one goal win is so nice,” Thompson said. “It’s funny though — why did we get the one goal win? We had a guy make one more play than Williams. One more play. All the little details add up throughout the game, and it was great for us to have made just one more of those details count.”

Excelling in small individual battles, the Jeffs enjoyed a substantial advantage in faceoffs. Duncan Morrissey ’14 won 16-of-22 faceoffs at the stripe to give Amherst possession at crucial moments.

“Duncan’s dominance at the face-off stripe allowed us to stop their runs and also go on some runs of our own,” Gold said. “If he can keep playing at that level, we will be able to keep winning the close ones.”

Given the logjam near the No. 8 seed in the NESCAC standings — combined with the league’s convoluted tiebreakers — the Jeffs won’t automatically qualify for the NESCAC Tournament with a win over Trinity, nor will they definitely miss the playoffs with a loss, leaving a cloud of uncertainty entering the final day of the season.

If Amherst wins at Trinity, the Jeffs need either a Williams home loss to Middlebury (7-2) or a Bates (4-5) win at Colby (2-7) to qualify for the postseason.

Conversely, if Amherst loses to Trinity, the Jeffs need both a Williams loss and a Bates win to make the tournament cutoff.