The sixth-seeded Middlebury men's lacrosse team advanced to the NESCAC Championship game following a 14-13 victory at top-seeded and undefeated Bates on Saturday. The Panthers (9-8) will take on either seven-time defending conference champion Tufts or Wesleyan in the title game on Sunday at 12:00 p.m. in Maine. Top-ranked Bates (14-1) lost for the first time this season and eyes an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Middlebury, winners of five of its last six games, is seeking its eighth conference championship, having won seven straight from 2001-2007. The team reaches the finals for the second-straight year and is making its 11th appearance overall, while becoming the first sixth seed to play for the title since 2010.
Both teams had their offenses clicking in the opening 15 minutes of the contest, combining for 11 goals. Middlebury's Henry Riehl started the scoring 42 seconds into the game, while Jake Walsh countered for the Bobcats just over a minute later. The Panthers tallied the next three goals as A.J. Kucinski, Chase Goree and Parker Lawlor each found the back of the net for a 4-1 lead. The hosts scored four of the next six goals as Middlebury held a 6-5 advantage after the first quarter.
The defenses took over in the second quarter, with the Panthers recording their only goal of the stanza with 3:49 expired. Riehl put a shot into the lower-right corner on a feed from Matthew O'Neal for a 7-5 lead. Charlie Fay answered with back-to-back goals, as the teams went into the half deadlocked at 7-7.
Middlebury netted the initial goal of the third period, following a quick clearing pass resulted in Danny Jacobs setting up Kucinski for his third tally of the game 3:48 into the new half. J.P. Miller extended Middlebury's lead to 9-7 with a low shot fired from the right side, but Bates eventually pulled even at 10-10. Lawlor scored with 56 seconds left in the quarter, giving the Panthers an 11-10 lead with 15 minutes left to play.
In the fourth quarter, Wes Quinzani gave Middlebury a 12-10 advantage 1:10 into the period, but the Bobcats crept back to within a goal on a marker by Matt Chlastawa. The guests reclaimed a two-goal lead 39 seconds later on a tally by O'Neal, only to have Chlastawa bring his team back to within a goal (13-12).
Middlebury jumped back in front by two goals (14-12) when Miller rifled a shot from 15 yards out after taking a feed from Goree with 2:30 showing on the clock. Chlastawa again closed the margin to one goal with 1:19 remaining, but the Panther defense prevented the Bobcats from getting off a shot in the final possession to earn their second-straight one-goal win.
Middlebury goalie Charles Midgley had another big game in the crease, recording 19 saves. Jake Madnick played a key role at the face-off X, winning 22-29 and scooping up a game-high 13 ground balls. Offensively, Kucinski and Miller each scored three times, while Goree (2-1-3), Riehl (2-1-3) and Jacobs (0-3-3) all finished with three points.
Chlastawa paced the Bobcats with four goals and two assists, while Fay tallied four times. Fay added nine ground balls and three caused turnovers and goalie Rob Strain made 14 saves in taking the loss.
Bates held a 59-41 edge in shots and a 49-44 advantage in ground balls, but Middlebury won 23-31 face-offs in a game that didn't feature a penalty.