May 19, 2010

Courtesy of Tufts Athletics

MEDFORD -- The Tufts University Jumbos started the fourth quarter by scoring four unanswered goals to overtake the Middlebury College Panthers for an 11-9 victory in the quarterfinal round of the NCAA Division III Men's Lacrosse Championship on Wednesday afternoon at Bello Field. Tufts (18-1) advances to the NCAA semi-finals, where they will play at Cortland State on Sunday.

Tufts outscored Middlebury 7-2 overall during the final 34:16 of play. During that stretch, NESCAC and New England Player of the Year D.J. Hessler (Monkton, MD) scored two goals with an assist, while junior Ryan Molloy (Setauket, NY) added a goal and two assists. That helped the Jumbos overcome a 7-4 advantage that the Panthers held with 4:42 remaining in the third quarter.

Middlebury (13-6) scored the game's first goal by Andrew Conner (Alexandria, VA), but a goal and an assist from Hessler led a three-goal spurt by Tufts that put the hosts up 3-1 at 4:51 of the first quarter. Middlebury scored twice before the period ended, including a tally by Erich Pfeffer (Glastonbury, CT) that tied the score at 3-3 with 2:36 remaining.

The Panthers maintained the momentum into the second quarter, netting four of the first five goals. Senior co-captain Pete Smith (Wilton, CT) assisted two of the scores, including one by Chris Teves (Wellesley, MA) that gave Middlebury its 7-4 lead. The Jumbos managed to chop the margin to 7-6 heading into halftime, with Sean Kirwan (Boonton Township, NJ) and Matt Witko (Chappaqua, NY) scoring goals.

The teams traded goals in the third quarter, with Panther Tim Cahill (Glastonbury, CT) scoring with just eight seconds remaining in the period to give the visitors an 8-7 advantage heading into the final quarter. However, Tufts scored the next four goals to surge to an 11-8 lead with 6:05 left in regulation. Hessler had a goal and an assist during the decisive run. Freshman Sam Gardner (Chelmsford, MA) scored the go-ahead goal at 9:16 of the fourth. Middlebury added another goal by Pfeffer at 4:32, but that is as close as they would get.

Hessler led Tufts with three goals and two assists, setting a new school record for assists (48) in the process. Witko and Kirwan both tallied twice for the Jumbos. Sophomore Nick Rhoads (McLean, VA) was dominant in the face-off circle for Tufts, winning 18 of 24 attempts. Tufts did not fail on any of its 19 clear attempts and was led defensively by four ground balls apiece from senior Darius Bittle-Dockery (New Haven, CT) and junior Alec Bialosky (Moreland Hills, OH). The Jumbos won the ground-ball battle overall 39-28.

Junior David Hild (West Hartford, CT) joined Cahill, Pfeffer, and Conners with two goals each for Middlebury, while Smith finished with three helpers. Junior Ryan Deane (Grosse Pointe, MI) was excellent in goal with 15 saves, including nine in the second half. Sophomore Matt Rayner (Andover, MA) also played well defensively with six ground balls.

On Sunday, Tufts will face a Cortland squad that was a 15-7 winner against RIT in other NCAA quarterfinal action on Wednesday. Sunday's semi-final game time has not yet been announced. The winner will move on to the NCAA Division III Championship Game in Baltimore on May 30.