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M. Lax keeps NESCAC playoff hopes alive

By Sterling Xie '16

April 10, 2014

Playing in the NESCAC means facing a difficult schedule that requires not only raw talent but also consistent execution to succeed. As evidenced by their up-and-down results, the Hamilton men’s lacrosse team has not always fulfilled the latter obligation.

Nevertheless, with the schedule winding down, the Continentals have keyed in on a few fixes that resulted in the team’s first NESCAC win, potentially saving their season in time to earn their third consecutive NESCAC playoff berth.

After a successful spring training trip to Florida that saw a 12-10 win over Keene State and a narrow 9-8 loss to 20th-ranked Amherst, Hamilton faltered over a subsequent three-game home stand. The Continentals dropped all three contests against conference competition, losing to Bates (4-11), Middlebury (6-12) and Tufts (3-18).

On the losing streak, top scorer John Zimmerman ’15 noted that the defeats stemmed from a failure to execute the game plan over a full 60-minute effort.

“I think that the biggest thing to remember for any team in the NESCAC is how deep the league is top to bottom,” he said. “On any given day the worst team can beat the best team. That being said, it’s imperative that as a team you execute the game plan perfectly every game otherwise you’ll end up on the losing end. I wouldn’t say we’ve played poorly in the past three games but at the same time we haven’t executed anywhere near our potential. When that happens, you can very easily go on a losing slide because of the high-caliber teams in the league.”

Midfielder Bryan Hopper ’14 added that the team still holds faith in its on-field philosophy.  “Nothing has changed since our trip to Florida,” asserted the senior. “Yes, we have had a three game losing streak since then, but at the end of the day we are getting better every game and still believing in what we do on the field, we just need to dig in and keep working hard at executing better on the field. The season is short and we don’t have time to second-guess what we’re doing on the field.”

Just when it appeared like any playoff hopes had fizzled amid the losing skid, the Continentals’ efforts finally produced the tangible result they desperately needed. Because of inclement weather, Hamilton travelled to North Adams, Mass. to face the Williams Ephs, who had just defeated ninth-ranked Tufts. Facing elimination from playoff contention with a loss, the Continentals pulled out a 9-6 win, one that showcased the elusive 60-minute performance the squad has strived for all season.

Hamilton rallied from a 6-5 deficit to score the final four goals, with attack Connor Morgan ’15 chipping in two goals and an assist during the game-altering run.  J.D. Brachman ’17 scored the game-winning goal with just 25 seconds remaining in the third quarter, and subsequently, the Continentals were able to shut out the Ephs in the final period to secure the victory.

The crucial win moves Hamilton to 4-8 overall, with a 1-7 conference record.  Colby’s loss to Bowdoin means the Continentals are 1.5 games behind the eighth and final playoff berth.  Trinity and Bates have also won one game in conference, making for a tight four-team race in the season’s final two games.

Before the Williams win, Hopper believed that the do-or-die prospects should drive the team to reach its peak. “While we are not in control of our own destiny we can put ourselves in a situation to be in the playoffs if we play our best in the next three games and win out,” he said.

“At the end of the day, every game is a chance to play the sport we love and compete against quality opponents. I expect us to continue playing hard, and at the end of the day the chips will fall where they fall. All you can do is control how you play. I will continue to play hard and I expect my teammates to do the same like we have all season long.”

The Continentals will close out the regular season with two more NESCAC road games against Connecticut College on April 12 and Trinity on April 19.  The Camels currently sits at 3-3 in conference, while the Bantams are 1-5. Hamilton still needs to win both games, but if they turn in similar efforts as they did against Williams, an improbable late-season winning streak could parlay itself into a postseason berth.

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