MEDFORD, Mass. -- The Bates men's lacrosse team's most successful season of the past 28 years ended at the same place where it first took flight, at rival and defending NCAA champion Tufts University's Bello Field, as the host Jumbos pulled away from an 8-7 score in the fourth quarter for a 13-8 victory in the second round of the NCAA Division III Championship tournament.
No. 12 nationally ranked Bates ends the season 11-6, having tied the program record for wins in a season and made its first-ever NCAA playoff appearance. The Bobcats were 7-2 from April on, including their breakthrough 12-8 win at Tufts on April 7. That game ended Tufts' 24-game win streak, 28-game home win streak and 15-game win streak against New England Small College Athletic Conference opponents.
Senior Jack Strain (Montclair, N.J.), one of four captains with senior Conor Henrie (Lexington, Mass.) and juniors Colby Spehler (Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.) and David Cappellini (Manhasset, N.Y.), paid tribute afterward to a career capped by a superlative senior campaign. "It's what me and my fellow seniors dreamed of as freshmen. It's surreal. It's the best team I've ever played with, the most fun I've ever had, and I'm just bummed it's over. I love these guys."
No. 5 Tufts received four goals and two assists from John Uppgren, including three goals in the second half, as well as four goals by Cole Bailey. The Jumbos had a 53-40 advantage in shot attempts, including 30-18 in the second half and 15-8 in the fourth quarter.
Sophomore Kyle Weber (Chagrin Falls, Ohio) led the Bobcats with two goals and two assists. Strain also scored twice, and junior Jack Allard (Ridgewood, N.J.) and sophomore Charlie Fay (Falmouth, Maine) both added a goal and an assist apiece. Senior Tucker White (Burlington, Vt.) won 6-of-9 faceoffs, junior Ken O'Friel (Scarsdale, N.Y.) scooped a game-high seven ground balls and junior goalie Joe Faria (Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.) played a great game with 13 saves.
Bates led the high-powered Jumbos 2-1 after the first period, thanks to a game-opening goal by Jack Allard 1:18 into the game, a Weber tally assisted by Fay with 27 seconds left in the period, and a series of defensive stops by the Bobcats in between.
Sophomore attackman Andrew Melvin (Medfield, Mass.), usually Bates' mainstay at the 'X' position, suffered a concussion from a Tufts hit in the early going, prompting freshmen Clarke Jones (Pepper Pike, Ohio) and Max Breschi (Carlisle, Pa.) into action. Both Jones and Breschi scored goals for Bates. "It was tough not to have Andrew out there; he's had a great year," said Lasagna. "But it was nice to get some of those pups in there in an NCAA playoff game."
A fast and furious second quarter saw Tufts move into the lead and grab a 7-4 advantage. Fay closed the gap to 7-5 with seven seconds left in the half with a brilliant underhand shot, to answer Uppgren's first goal of the game scored 19 seconds earlier.
After trailing 8-5 for nearly 11 minutes of the third quarter, the Bobcats got back-to-back goals at the 3:18 and 1:05 marks of the quarter to close the gap to 8-7. Weber made it 8-6 with an outside rip from the right edge of the circle after Bates' defense withstood a lengthy but scoreless Tufts possession. Tufts won the next faceoff but back-to-back shots by Kyle Howard-Johnson hit the post and got blocked, respectively. Jack Allard gained possession after the blocked shot, and the Bobcat freshman Breschi, playing in only his fifth game, caught a pass over the Tufts goal from Weber, whirled and fired past Tufts goalie Alex Salazar to make it a one-goal game.
The Bobcats then thought they had tied the game in the closing seconds of the quarter, during a 30-second extra-man opportunity, when Allard's shot rang off the crossbar.
"I thought there was a little bit of a momentum swing after Jack Allard's extra-man shot that we all, of course, thought was in the goal that the referees did not think was in the goal," said Lasagna. "That would have made it 8-8 and made things really interesting."
Instead, the Jumbos got some breathing room in the opening minute of the fourth as Uppgren tallied from the right side of the circle, and a minute later they made it 10-7 as Ben Andreycak scored from Garrett Clarke. Then Bailey tallied with 10:59 left for an 11-7 lead. A six-minute scoreless stretch ensued, before the Jumbos put the game away with Uppgren assisting Bailey with 5:00 to go and Uppgren scoring unassisted 34 seconds later, after a faceoff win by Tufts.
"Their faceoff guy (Conor Helfrich) got hot in the latter part of the third quarter, and it felt like they had the ball for the whole fourth quarter," said Lasagna. "I think our defense got a little worn down, and John Uppgren played great."
Lasagna's message to his team after the game was one of pride, tinged with the expectation that Bates will be back for more next year. "I just said we now know what this experience is all about, and I thanked the seniors for incredible leadership. To think about where we were a year ago, as sad and disappointing as this is, it's pretty remarkable, and it's a credit to these kids."
Strain said that while Bates' success this season came as a surprise to many, "We always kind of had a hunch; we knew what we were capable of. It was just really fun to put everything together this year and make it this far."
Peter Lasagna Postgame Interview: