By Matt Noonan
MEDFORD, MA – If there were one word to describe Tufts University’s men’s lacrosse team it would be resilient.
Trailing Middlebury College for a majority of the first half, the Jumbos rallied to even the score at the break before netting seven strikes in the second, which was just enough to defeat the Panthers, 14-13.
“The guys…they’re tough,” explained Tufts coach Mike Daly. “Up at Colby and in a tough situation we go down 6-0, and the Babson game (we were) down 3-0, and we’re down today, 4-1, (but) they just keep rolling and they really have a lot of trust and respect for each other and we just keep grinding on the game plan.
“We just got a great group of guys and we believe in each other and we stick together too.”
Middlebury wasted little time securing a three-goal advantage thanks to their defense, which forced seven turnovers in the opening session before Tufts’ offense came to life following a diving strike by Chris Schoenhut that sparked a 3-0 run, which spanned into the second quarter and tied the game at 4-4.
Andrew Metros and Jon Broome each recorded an unassisted strike early in the second, which halted the Jumbos run and pushed the Panthers ahead by two, but Peter Bowers sliced the deficit three minutes later to bring Tufts within one.
Joel Blockowicz registered his team’s third consecutive unassisted goal roughly two minutes later, but Tufts answered with Bowers and Andrew Fiamengo to tie the game at 7-7 heading into intermission.
“We were just really struggling with some of that pressure, so more of a credit to them and their speed, their tempo and they were making the plays and we weren’t,” Daly said of Middlebury’s first half effort.
Cole Bailey echoed his coach by saying, “Yeah, stick skills got us in trouble.”
Bailey extended Tufts run from the second into the third when he dodged by his defender at the top of the half circle and whipped a shot past Nate Gaudio (11 saves) before Dan Leventhal and Beau Wood registered back-to-back strikes.
Mike Giordano halted the 5-0 run with a goal midway through the third, but Tufts answered with a 4-0 run that went into the fourth and provided the Jumbos with a six-goal edge with 9:43 remaining.
“We came out firing and I think a bunch of people got in the point column, so that’s good, but that was huge and it ended up making the difference in the end of the game,” Bailey said of his team’s third quarter effort.
Middlebury stormed back with five goals – two on the man-up – but after Stew Kerr netted the Panthers 13th tally on the left side of the half circle with 24 seconds remaining, Tufts’ Brian Ruggiero won his 16th face-off, which sealed the win.
“We knew there were going to be runs back and fourth, knew it was going to be a game like that, but we just honestly get frustrated when we’re helping those teams make those runs at us, but they’re a good team and it’s in the win column and we’ll take it,” said Daly.
Leventhal led all scorers with four strikes, while Bailey and Wood combined for nine points (five goals, four assists).
“It’s awesome playing with (Beau),” stated Wood. “When he’s open I try to find him and just have trust in him throwing it into the back of the net.”
This afternoon’s victory marks Tufts’ eighth consecutive win since Mar. 16 against Stevens.
Tufts will return the grass on Tuesday when they travel to Endicott College for a 7 p.m. face-off, while Middlebury returns to action Saturday against Trinity College at home.