Two weeks ago, David Hawley ’11 was quoted, optimistically saying he thought men’s lacrosse was set to make a run in the NESCAC tournament. Turns out they have made more than just a run, as Williams defeated seven-time NESCAC champion Middlebury last Saturday in overtime to enter the championship game against Bowdoin on Sunday. The Ephs then dominated the Polar Bears, 9-4, to win their first NESCAC title and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
“I wouldn’t say the championship was unexpected because we really took it one game at a time for the past few weeks. It was a crazy realization when we finally had won the title,” co-captain Dixon Hargrove ’08 said.
Entering the NESCAC finals, the Ephs (10-5) and the Polar Bears (11-6) seemed evenly matched. Both teams had similar records, and their one contest earlier in the season went to Williams by only one goal.
Despite their even appearances, Williams controlled the game from the start. Not long into the first quarter, Tim White ’09 put the first points on the board and came back less than a minute later to assist the second goal of the game, made by Hawley. Bowdoin answered with its first score with 3:41 left in the period, but Michael Vrla ’08 squelched any momentum the Polar Bears could have picked up with two more goals.
Williams headed comfortably into the second period with a 4-1 lead. With his second goal of the game, Hawley quickly widened the gap in the first minute. Bowdoin’s Owen Smith made an attempt to get his team back on the board more than thirteen minutes later and added another with a goal in the beginning of the third, but two more Williams goals by Hargrove and Richard Reuter ’10 brought the Ephs lead to a formidable 7-3 lead.
The NESCAC title was essentially in the Ephs’ hands by the five-minute mark in the fourth quarter, after Hargrove and Vrla scored twice more. Bowdoin’s Matt Legg made a feeble last attempt at redemption with a goal at 3:19 left to play, but the score remained in Williams’ favor, and the Ephs went on to win 9-4. Goalie Michael Gerbush ’09 made 13 saves, earning his second NESCAC Player of the Week honor this year.
The Ephs’ first appearance in the NESCAC championship surprised almost everyone as Williams faced first-seeded Middlebury in the semifinals. The Panthers had never lost a NESCAC playoff game until Saturday when the Ephs knocked them out of the tournament during overtime play. On a goal from Reuter, with 1:52 remaining in OT, Williams made conference history.
White and Vrla started off the scoring for the Ephs as they jumped out to an early 2-0 lead against the Panthers. Middlebury cut the deficit to one by the end of the quarter.
The Panthers tied the score at 4-4 midway through the second quarter on a goal by Tom Petty. However, the Ephs would not slow down. Hawley put a ball in the back of the net with just seven seconds remaining in the half to give the Ephs the advantage midway through the game.
The second half began with another goal from Reuter to give the Ephs the 6-4 lead. The two teams then countered each other’s goals for the rest of the third quarter. Williams managed to hang onto the lead, heading into the final period ahead 8-7.
Williams and Middlebury continued to go back-and-forth through the fourth quarter. With the score tied at 9-9 in the closing minutes, each team found itself presented with opportunities to score. Connolly put his second goal of the quarter in with just 54 seconds to go in the game. The Panthers, however, were not phased and with only twenty-five seconds to go, added the equalizer, knotting the score at 10-10 to send the game into overtime.
Each team was only able to fire one shot apiece in OT. For the Ephs, one shot was all they needed. Reuter pounded the ball into the back of the net to give the Ephs the victory and end Middlebury’s reign atop the NESCAC. The loss snapped a 15-game conference winning streak for the Panthers.
“It was an unbelievable feeling to beat Middlebury, as we knew we were making history by knocking them out of the NESCAC tournament, which they have won every year since it began” said Hargrove.
The Ephs now hope to continue making history in the NCAA tournament – they’ve already earned a first round bye in what will be their first tourney appearance. On May 10 Williams will face Ithaca (15-2), who is coming off a five-game win streak and are aslo ranked fifth nationally. However, in a season filled with firsts, anything is possible for the Ephs in the national tournament.