Men's Lax To Host NESCAC Championship - Watch Live!

April 29, 2008

Middlebury College, winner of the last seven NESCAC titles, will look to continue its reign over the conference this weekend when the Panthers host the final rounds of the 2008 NESCAC Men's Lacrosse Championship in Middlebury, Vt. The action gets underway on Saturday, May 3 when top-seeded Middlebury faces sixth-seeded Williams in the first semifinal at 12:00 p.m., followed by fourth-seeded Bowdoin clashing with second-seeded Wesleyan at 3:00 p.m. The 2008 NESCAC Men's Lacrosse Championship concludes on Sunday, May 4 at 12:00 p.m. Fans unable to attend this weekend's action will be able to follow all three games live via the Internet on D3Cast.com.

Middlebury (12-1, 8-1 NESCAC) needed a win on the final day of the regular season in order to guarantee itself the top seed in this year's championship, and the Panthers delivered with a 9-4 decision at home against Tufts. During last year's tournament, Middlebury, which owns an all-time NESCAC postseason record of 15-0, limped into the playoffs with a 4-5 conference mark only to run the table as the sixth seed and win the program's seventh league title. This season, the Panthers rolled off nine consecutive victories before suffering their first and only setback so far this season, a 6-5 loss against Trinity at home on April 12. Saturday's victory over Tufts in the regular season finale was by the largest margin for Middlebury in nearly a month, as the Panthers had not won by more than three goals since their March 29 game against Colby (13-7). While Middlebury has not been winning by many goals, the offense still hums along at an average of 10.38 goals per game, second among all NESCAC teams and tops in this weekend's semifinal field. Pacing the Panther attack this season is junior midfielder Mike Stone (Boston, Mass.) with a team-leading 26 goals and 43 points. Sophomore attacker Pete Smith (Wilton, Conn.) has been the setup man for Middlebury this season, as his squad-best 23 assists are currently tied for fourth among all conference players. In net, junior goalkeeper Pete Britt (Summit, N.J.) has played every minute of every game this season, boasting a 12-1 record with a 7.46 goals against average that ranks fourth in the NESCAC.

The Panthers will take on the resurgent sixth-seeded Ephs of Williams (8-5, 4-5 NESCAC) on Saturday afternoon. The Ephs may have been written off by many to even make this year's championship after an 1-4 start to the conference slate, including a 7-6 loss at Middlebury on April 2. Since that setback, though, Williams has gone on to win six of its last seven games, including an 8-7 come-from-behind overtime victory over Bowdoin last Saturday to make the playoffs and a 14-6 win at Tufts in the first round on Sunday. The Ephs reached the semifinals for the first time in championship history during the 2007 tournament but were sent away early by Wesleyan, 8-0. Saturday's contest, the first between Williams and Middlebury in playoff history, will feature the top two conference teams in terms of penalties, as the Ephs average a league-low 2.15 penalty minutes per game, while the Panthers are second with an average of 2.69. Although Williams is sixth in the conference in scoring at 9.31 goals per game, the defense is third with a goals against average of 7.12. Backboning the Ephs this season has been junior goalkeeper Michael Gerbush (Glen Head, N.Y.). Gerbush, who has not allowed more than seven goals in a game over Williams' last six victories, is third among NESCAC keepers with a 7.18 goals against average and a .627 save percentage. Up front, rookie attacker David Hawley (New Canaan, Conn.) has scored a team-leading 35 goals through 13 games, good enough for a 2.69 goals per game average that ranks second overall.

Second-seeded Wesleyan (10-4, 7-2 NESCAC) heads into the weekend having won five of its last six outings, the only loss during that stretch coming against Middlebury 11-8 on April 19. The Cardinals advanced out of the first round with a strong showing in the second half against rival Trinity, outscoring the Bantams 7-2 over the final two quarters en route to an 11-5 victory. Wesleyan has been a mainstay in the championship in recent years, reaching Sunday's final in each of the last four tournaments but falling to perennial nemesis Middlebury each time. This season, the Cardinals are third in scoring offense at 10.07 goals per game and second in scoring defense by allowing on average 6.61 goals. Senior attacker Grayson Connors (Princeton Junction, N.J.) has been giving opposing defenses fits all season long, as he leads the NESCAC in points with 48 and is second in goals with 39 through 14 appearances. Following Connors closely on the Wesleyan stat sheet is junior attacker Russell Follansbee (Deerfield, Mass.) with an even 23 goals, including a league-leading eight man-up tallies, and 23 assists for 46 points. Junior goalkeeper Mike Borrero (Bayport, N.Y.) has filled in nicely after the departure of All-American Charlie Congleton due to graduation, posting a goals against average of 6.29 that is second in the NESCAC this season.

Looking to make it to the championship match for the first time since the inaugural tournament in 2001 is fourth-seed Bowdoin (10-5, 5-4 NESCAC). The Polar Bears played in back-to-back overtime games last weekend, closing out the regular season with an 8-7 loss at Williams before bouncing back with a come-from-behind 11-10 extra session win over fifth-seeded Connecticut College on Sunday in the first round. The lone meeting between Bowdoin and Wesleyan this season went the way of the Cardinals on March 29, 13-5 in Middletown, Conn. Saturday's semifinal showdown will mark the third consecutive year that the Polar Bears and Cardinals have faced each other in the conference playoffs. During the 2006 semifinals, Wesleyan edged Bowdoin in overtime by a 16-15 score, while last year the Cardinals dispatched the Polar Bears in the first round 7-3. Bowdoin's offense this season is tied with Wesleyan with an average 10.07 goals per game and the Polar Bears have also been impressive in man-up situations, converting 33.3 percent of their chances with 18 man-advantage tallies. Scoring for Bowdoin this spring has been by committee, as seven different Polar Bears have 10 or more goals so far this season. Leading the pack is senior attacker Mike Giordano (Washington, D.C.) with 33 points on 27 goals and six assists through all 15 games. Classmate Max Key (Greenwood Village, Colo.) is one of the conference's top face-off specialists, as the senior midfielder has won .630 percent of his draws this season.


First Round - Sunday, April 27 at Higher Seeds

at No. 4 Bowdoin 11, No. 5 Connecticut College 10 - OT
at No. 2 Wesleyan 11, No. 7 Trinity 5
No. 6 Williams 14, at No. 3 Tufts 6

Semifinals - Saturday, May 3 at Middlebury
No. 6 Williams at No. 1 Middlebury - 12:00 p.m.
No. 4 Bowdoin vs. No. 2 Wesleyan - 3:00 p.m.

Championship - Sunday, May 4 at Middlebury
Semifinal winners - 12:00 p.m.

-- courtesy NESCAC--