Strong defense leads men’s LAX over Bates in opener

In lacrosse, goals and shots fly fast and furious, and the frenetic action in both attacking thirds is what draws fans down to Cole Field spring afternoons. It’s an offensive-minded game, and the final score usually reflects that.

If that’s a typical lacrosse game, then men’s lacrosse’s (1-0, 1-0 in the NESCAC) opener was anything but ordinary. Williams left the AstroTurf Field of the Bates Bobcats (1-2, 0-1) with a hard fought 4-2 victory and an auspicious opening for the new campaign.

Head Coach Renzie Lamb came away from the game with a positive outlook. The low score did not bother him. “Though the score didn’t show it,” Lamb reflected, “it was very exciting to get our first win, especially on the road. We played well and the young kids performed.”

If Lamb credited the underclassmen for a strong game, it was two juniors that gave him the victory. Midfielder Scott Wilbur ’04 had two goals and an assist, while goalie Matt Rade ’04 was sensational in net, coming up with 16 saves, leading an Eph defense that put the clamps on the Bobcat attack.

Bates jumped to the early 1-0 lead getting a goal from Brad Frost at 2:12. The Eph defense bore down, however, and Bates would not score again until their opponents had opened a 3-1 lead.

Ward Bitter ’05 opened the scoring for the Ephs with an acrobatic goal with 11:44 to go in the second quarter. Starting with the ball in the back right corner, Bitter juked past his defender to the inside, jumping from outside the crease to dump the ball over Bates goaltender Mark Dobbyn, knotting the score at one apiece.

As play seesawed back and forth, Wilbur stepped up. Later in the second, co-captain Chris Hayes ’03 beat his man from the top, finding unmarked fellow middie Wilbur for the shot into the upper right corner and the go-ahead goal. That wasn’t enough, as Lamb wanted to take a bigger lead into halftime.

Lamb called a timeout with 30 seconds to go in the half, allowing the Ephmen to set up one of plays they’ve been working on. It called for Bitter to come off a screen, and then find Wilbur coming off a second screen. That’s precisely what happened, and Wilbur kept the ball high, dumping it past Dobbyn into the back of the net with just six seconds remaining.

Bates scored again late in the third quarter to make it a one-goal game. Co-captain Peter Thomson ’03, the Ephs face-off specialist, won the ensuing draw, taking it all the way to the house and accounting for the final margin of victory.

The story of the game, however, was Rade and his defense. Bates mounted several strong attacks, getting attackers in one-on-one with the Eph goalie. Rade rose to the occasion, smothering the Bobcat shots with the huge basket on his stick.

When asked about his performance, Rade deferred credit. “The coaches had scouted them really well, and so we knew what they were going to try and do.” Moreover, Rade felt that his cage was well protected by the Eph defenders. “I felt that a bunch of the young guys stepped it up and that we really talked well, especially late in the game. To keep a team to just two goals, that’s a real team effort.”

Late in the fourth quarter, Rade and his defense held off a flurry of activity in front of their net. With the game on the line, Rade singled out two defenders as key. “David Rackovan ’04 and Kellen Benjamin ’06 knocked down all three of their attackmen right in front of the cage. It was pretty amazing.”

Try as he might to give the praise to others, Rade was still the star of the Eph team. Though Bitter echoed Rade’s praise for the team effort, he still placed the ultimate importance on Rade’s contribution. “The defense stepped up for us. Keeping them to two goals was huge.” As for Rade, Bitter was almost speechless, “Rade was – he was really, really, really good.”

Neither Lamb nor Bitter placed the blame for the team’s low offensive output on the elements. “We weren’t ticking as well as we could,” Bitter said. “In practice, we sometimes are just on, and we never really got there. That’s the first game.” Wilbur concurred, stating that he believed it was just a matter of time. “Our offense showed potential,” Wilbur said. “We just missed a bunch of open shots. That’s something we can work on.”

It may have been the first game, but travel difficulties were also hard on the Ephmen. The game, originally scheduled for Saturday, was postponed because of icing on the field. Leaving early Saturday afternoon, the five-hour trip was made miserable by bus troubles. Smoke began to creep into the passenger compartment, and the team hacked and coughed for an hour until they could reach Portland and switch. But the new bus broke down as the Ephs prepared to return to their hotel in Portland after practice. The team didn’t get back to their hotel for dinner until 10:30 Saturday night, and face-off was at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

Even with all that adversity, the Ephmen rode their defense to their season-opening win. Next up is Skidmore, 4 p.m. on Wednesday, followed by a Saturday trip to Hamilton for a 2 p.m. game, as the Ephs hope to continue their road-win streak and see a return to typical high-scoring lacrosse.

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