After back-to-back wins put the team back into playoff contention, men’s lacrosse (6-8, 4-5 in the NESCAC) fell apart in the last week of its season. The Ephs dropped three straight games to end another losing campaign that saw them fall to sixth place in the NESCAC and bow out in the first round of the league championship tournament, 12-6, thanks to a second-half collapse to Colby (10-4, 6-3) this Sunday at a snow-ridden Seaverns Field in Waterville, ME.
The final loss puts a heartbreaking end to the season for a lacrosse team that was much improved over last year’s 3-11 squad. However, the Ephs could not hold on to an early 3-0 lead in the face of the physical play of the White Mules late in the game.
“We had them on the ropes and we just let them back into it,” co-captain Scott Goldberg ’02 said of the loss. “The desire was there, we wanted the game, but we never got our flow.”
With high playoff intensity evident from both sides at the outset, the first-round game was the Ephs’ to lose after they jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first quarter thanks to two goals from Goldberg. Williams’ intensity, however, got the best of them as they started to rack up penalties late in the first.
Colby, seeded third in the tournament, jumped on the man-advantage opportunity, and scored four goals in just over ten minutes to start the second quarter.
Goalie Matt Rade ’04 was the victim of the barrage after coming in cold off the bench into the blistering weather, part of head coach Renzie Lamb’s strategy over the last two weeks of the season to rotate between Rade and Baeman Vertovez ’04 in goal.
“Matt came in cold and that hurt us a lot. I think they capitalized on that,” Goldberg said. “It’s worked for us throughout the season to get both goalies playing time, but it might have worked better to switch them in and out at the half on such a cold day so that they could get warm and play an entire half. That probably would have made them more consistent.”
With Vertovez back in net for the third, the Ephs knotted the game at four early in the third quarter after Matt Barhight ’05 cut through the Colby defense for an unassisted goal.
But with the snow falling harder and harder, Vertovez could not keep up with the relentless passing of the Mules’ offensive attack. Colby took control with four more unanswered goals, including two from Barron Butler.
Williams sputtered from there, and the Ephs’ 11 shots on goal could not keep up with the likes of Colby’s Chris Larson, who charged through the blizzard’s remains and scored a fabulous goal to open up the final six-point margin, sealing the game and the Ephs’ season.
The horrendous conditions in Maine would not have played such a pivotal role in Williams’ playoff run had the Ephs not lost a chance to secure home-field advantage after a 12-8 loss at Amherst (8-6, 5-4) to close out the regular season on April 27.
Goals by Pete Thomson ’03, Scott Wilbur ’04 and Graeme Sanderson ’03 brought the Ephs back within striking distance at the end of the first half, down only by a count of 5-3. Williams kept the offense rolling with an early score in the third, but five unanswered goals by the Lord Jeffs sent their biggest rivals packing for a trip north.
That region was not kind to the Ephs earlier in the week, when Williams got handled as they visited the first-place Middlebury Panthers (12-1, 8-1), who are ranked second in the nation in Div. III and will face the lowest remaining seed in Saturday’s NESCAC semifinals.
The Panthers leapt out to an early 4-0 lead in the first 5:48 of the game, but the Ephs held strong with three goals of their own in the first quarter. Diminutive attackman Mike Saraceni pushed the Middlebury lead to six with two goals in the second quarter, and the Panthers’ David Seeley scored three goals in the first four minutes of the second half to give Middlebury’s stalwart defense plenty of breathing room.
The dominant Panthers coasted to a 20-10 win despite a monster day from Williams’ Geoff McNally ’05, who had three goals and two assists in an otherwise frustrating performance for the Ephs.
Despite the late-season fall, Lamb has a healthy crop of returning players, especially with the Ephs’ talented young midfielders, for next year’s group, which will surely look to build upon what was a successful rebuilding year for men’s lacrosse, highlighted by an April 4 win over a then-18th ranked Springfield team.
Williams fell short of a .500 record, something the team now has failed to capture for a second straight year after a dominant five-year run in the late ’90s, but the Ephs are certainly on the right track.
“We definitely didn’t live up to our potential,” Goldberg lamented, “but we had moments when we were great. The Springfield win was a real standout â€“ to basically dominate that game was amazing, and it showed us what we could be. So this season was definitely an improvement over last year.”