Win or go home: that is what the men’s lacrosse team was faced with on Saturday, April 26 in the first round of the NESCAC tournament hosting Conn College, a team the Cardinals had beaten 16-7 just three days earlier. The Cardinals entered the tournament as the second seed, having posted a NESCAC record of 8-2, while the Camels were the seventh seed with a 5-5 conference mark. Although on paper the Cardinals were the dominant team, having just won a lopsided victory against the Camels on April 23, Saturday’s game was a playoff game and the margin of error was thin. After fighting hard for 60 minutes, the Cardinals came away with a well-earned 10-8 victory, propelling them to a NESCAC semifinal game for the 11th time in the program’s history.
“Playoffs are just a different level of lacrosse,” said Captain Aidan Daniell ’14. “You have to go that much harder if you want to win because every team wants it, or they’re going home.”
The Camels forced the issue early, drawing first blood just 59 seconds after the opening faceoff, and looked like a completely different team from the one that fell three days earlier.
“Playing any team two times in a row is really hard in this league,” said Captain Elliot Albert ’14. “I think they came out strong, their goalie definitely made some key saves for them, and I think they tweaked a couple of things that worked for them.”
Mike Giambanco ’14 got the scoring started for the Cardinals on their first man-up opportunity of the game to knot the score at one apiece. With just under six minutes to play in the first quarter, the Camels snatched the lead. Once again, Giambanco answered, ripping the upper-left corner of the net on another man-up opportunity. Graham Macnab ’14 netted one more for the Cardinals, giving them a 3-2 lead as the clock on the first quarter ran out. Thirty seconds into the second quarter, the Cardinals found themselves once again with a man-up opportunity after a crosscheck sent the Camel contender to the box. This time it was Lyle Mitchell ’16 who found the back of the cage, giving the Cards a 4-2 advantage.
Converting on man-up opportunities was key to the Cardinals’ first half offensive output, with three of their four goals coming when they had the extra man advantage. The Camels were not intimidated and played with a determination not found when they lost to the Cardinals previously, and they moved to cut the Cardinals’ lead to one with 3:38 left in the opening half. The crowd could feel this was a different Camels team, and with 13 seconds remaining, the Camels found the cage and tied the game at four, heading into halftime with the momentum on their side.
“[At the half] I really emphasized that this was our season, it was win or go home” Daniell said.
Right from the start of the second half, the Cardinals sent a message to the Camels when Quentin DellaFera ’15 and Matt Prezioso ’15 scored two unanswered goals, giving the Cards a slight cushion. Once again, the Camels fought back finding the goal two times and evening the score with 5:54 to play in the third. But DellaFera and Prezioso rose to the occasion converting on two more scoring opportunities, rebuilding the Cards’ two-goal margin and an 8-6 advantage.
“You got to give credit to them, they came out after getting blown out and played hard,” Albert said. “It was good game.”
Less than five minutes into the fourth quarter, Niall Devaney ’16 gave the Cardinals their biggest lead of the game at 9-6. Despite the three-goal deficit, the Camels never gave up, and rattled off two goals in a 17-second span to close within one of the Cards. After the Camels committed two costly penalties in the final two minutes of play, Mitchell sealed the victory with his second man-up goal of the day, converting on an open net opportunity.
“It was just a great team effort across the board, we had good possessions on offense, and defensively we knew they were going to come on and give us a real push with some of the shooters they have,” said Head Coach John Raba. “We just stuck with the game plan.”
Although the game may have been a lot closer than anticipated, the Cardinals will move onto the semifinals where they will face Little Three rival Amherst, to whom they lost 14-10 earlier this season. The Lord Jeffs, the three seed in the tournament, beat Bowdoin 13-6 in their quarterfinal game to reach the semis. The other semifinal matchup will feature defending NESCAC champion Tufts against the fourth-seeded Ephs of Williams. Championship weekend, Saturday, May 3 and Sunday, May 4, will be held at Tufts, since the Jumbos are the highest seed remaining in the tournament.
“Championship weekend is certainly a grind, it’s a back-to-back weekend, and you really just have to take it one game at a time, and you can’t think the two game mentality,” Raba said. “You have to really think about laying it on the line on Saturday, and find it deep within yourself to try and get it done on Sunday because even if you look ahead that’s when you lose; I have been around long enough to know that we have one game to take care of, whoever it is, and that is going to be our only focus I can guarantee up until that point, and then if we are fortunate enough to win we will worry about the next. It’s more about a heart thing than anything else because it’s tough.”