Noise from men’s lacrosse’s first round playoff game at Jackson Field reverberated across campus this past Saturday, but as the match progressed, bitter groans began replacing hopeful cheers. An air of frustration set firmly in as a hot, talented Bates side asserted control on the match, their rowdy fans jeering at the crowd with every goal as Wesleyan’s hopes slowly faded away.
The final, 14-11, ultimately reflected a game closer than the one that transpired. It wasn’t a thrashing, however, and Wesleyan certainly held its own.
“Coming off of the Conn. Game, which was one of the worst games I’ve seen us play, I felt like we actually rebounded pretty well,” said Senior Captain Matt Prezioso. “We came out fired up and ready to play, but some stuff just didn’t go our way.”
The loss ended Wesleyan’s playoff run before it could even get started, and also, sadly, ended their season. Finishing 9-7 and 6-4 in the NESCAC, the Cardinals achieved their 18th straight winning season, but fell far short of their goal of winning a NESCAC title.
In a highly competitive field, a fourth place regular season finish and a round one bow-out is nothing to sniff at, and the Cardinals should feel proud after a very solid season.
The hottest team in the NESCAC, 14th nationally ranked Bates were riding a five-game league winning-streak when they traveled to Middletown. They have been slicing through every opponent, outscoring Bowdoin, Conn. College, Tufts, Middlebury, and Colby by a 79-43 margin during this run. Wesleyan, meanwhile, went 2-3 against the same opponents this season, and was outscored 51-39.
Needless to say, despite Wesleyan’s general sense of confidence, emphasized repeatedly by the players over the course of the season, its home field advantage, and its higher seeding, it entered the game knowing it had to play the team that no one wanted to play.
Prezioso and Captain Mikhiel Tareen ’15 discussed how Bates’s recent momentum factored into their training going into the match.
“I don’t think it affected our preparation too much,” Tareen said. “I think we all knew that it was going to be a battle, especially because they are, legitimately, playing some pretty good ball right now. We played them earlier in the season, and it’s just a confidence thing for them. They know they can play and it’s making them play well.”
Still, their opponent’s standing was noted by the team.
“Them being hot, obviously, was a thing we looked at going in, but it wasn’t like we were going to change our game plan and do something different from what we did before against them just to adjust,” Prezioso said. “We knew that if we went out, played the game we knew we could, and stuck to our game plan, we could hopefully get a win.”
This was the first game that the Cardinals have played on Jackson Field, on grass as opposed to artificial turf, which is the standard for NESCAC.
“There are definitely subtle differences to playing on grass,” Tareen said. “It’s different picking up the ball, it’s more tiring to run, and it can be harder for the goalies to read shots, because the ball bounces weird.”
The Cards hoped that these differences would play into their hands, and had been practicing on grass for a few weeks in preparation.
“Bates hadn’t played on grass yet, so we thought that would be a substantial advantage, but it didn’t seem to affect them too much,” Tareen said.
Indeed, the surface did not slow down Jack Allard, who led Bates with four goals and two assists. The junior leads the Bobcats this season with 39 goals and 14 assists for 53 points.
Meanwhile, netminder Joe Faria recorded a stunning 15 saves, foiling the Cards who drastically outshot their opponent, 49-32. All over the field, it seemed, luck stuck firmly with the boys from Lewiston.
“I think it was one of those games where we didn’t play terrible, but we didn’t play great, and I don’t think they played great either,” Tareen said. “Things didn’t really go our way in general. We hit a lot of pipes. I remember one play we had a fast break and we hit a pipe and it rebounded to their player and they took it down and scored, and it’s one of those moments that just shows that it just wasn’t our day.”
Despite their frustration, the Cards did their best to reverse their bad luck.
“They got some lucky breaks and we got some unlucky breaks,” Prezioso said. “It’s unfortunate that it ended like that, but it wasn’t like we went out there and laid an egg.”
In the first half, the Cardinals showed a resilience characteristic of this year’s team, overcoming three two-goal deficits (2-0, 4-2, and 6-4), to tie the game up at six early in the third period.
“I didn’t ever really think we were playing catch-up but I definitely never felt like, ‘Oh, we have this thing in the bag,’” Tareen said.
The exciting start to the second half did not live up to its promise, either.
“Coming out of halftime and scoring those two quick goals, it was like, ‘Alright we’re going to start getting on a roll, things are going to fall into place for us,’ but they just never did,” Prezioso said. “Still, I don’t think there was any point for us where I was thinking, ‘Wow, this game is completely out of reach.’”
But that was the closest the Cardinals would get, as the streaky Bobcats dominated the remainder of the third period and most of the fourth, scoring eight of the next eleven goals to make it 14-9 in their favor.
In the middle of this run, after four straight Bobcat scores, Cardinal goaltender Justin Schick ’15 (10 goals allowed, 5 saves) was pulled in favor of Ted Bergman ’17, who let up four goals and made two saves in the final quarter.
The Cardinals tacked on two consolation goals in the final minute, one each from Prezioso and Jackson Arnold ’16, but the game was already over. Prezioso and Harry Stanton ’18, the team’s first and second points accumulators, tallied four points each, but it wasn’t enough to keep Wesleyan’s season alive.
The Cards will bid farewell this spring to 10 seniors, while Bates moves on to face Amherst this Saturday in the NESCAC semifinals. The winner of that matchup will go up against the winner of Tufts versus Middebury in the championship game.