With eight seconds to play in regulation of last season’s NCAA Division III Men’s Lacrosse Tournament’s opening-round game between Stevens Institue of Technology and Springfield College, senior Eric Baslov netted the game-tying goal to force overtime. Just 1:14 seconds of game time later, the Ducks ended the Pride’s season on a Nicholas Phillippi goal and advanced to the next round.
With nine months and 19 days gone since that day, the two squads will meet again on Stagg Field this Saturday in one of Division III’s biggest early season games. Springfield is ranked No. 20 in this week’s USILA Coaches Poll, while Stevens comes in at No. 6.
“They’ve got a lot [of players] back; their whole starting midfield which is maybe the best midfield in the country,” Springfield coach Keith Bugbee said. “The only thing they lost were a few close defensemen, but their firepower is magnificent.”
That first-line midfield unit of Phillippi, Rich Dupras and Harry Dorne combined to score 138 goals last season and have already scored 27 goals in the Ducks’ three games this year – all wins. The Pride will have their hands full with this unit, but defensive midfielders Colby Verge, Dom Roberto and long-stick Mike Donahue are one of the best units around, and should be up to the task of containing them.
While the Ducks may come out with an advantage in the midfield, Springfield will have an advantage on the attack. Ryon Lynch, Dylan Sheehan and Ryan Murphy form one of the best attack trios in the country, and will benefit from the return of faceoff specialist Branden Fernandez, who will make his season debut Saturday.
“I’m hoping Branden can have the kind of day he had last year and get us the ball a lot because I feel good about our offense if we can have the ball a lot,” Bugbee said. “But defensively we’re going to have the kitchen sink for them to handle.”
Last year the “Chief Dawgs,” as they call themselves, used several different tactics to try slowing down Stevens’ offense including shutoffs, double-shutoffs, moving a defenseman to the midfield and alternating help defenses to give the Ducks different looks. With such an aggressive midfield unit, it is tough for any team to play them with a basic defense and hope to come out with a win.
Helping aid that defensive effort will be two former players who now join Bugbee on the sidelines as assistant coaches. Tyler O’Keefe and Jason Ohnsman were both key members of the Pride’s defense last season, and will bring a different dynamic to the preparation for this game than was there last season.
“These kids have no idea how lucky they are for the amount of coaching they’re getting this year,” Bugbee said. “They’re doing a great job and giving a lot of information. [Stevens’] riding game is really strong, but we did beat it last year and we know what they’re doing, so we’re building off that.”
With so much emphasis being placed on defense this week, it will be incumbent upon the Pride’s young defensemen to build off the experience of last week’s loss to Nazareth and grow into a mature unit. With so many different defenses included in the game plan this week, each player will not only be responsible for his positioning, but also the positioning of his teammates.
The Pride and Ducks will renew what has become a rather heated rivalry Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. on Stagg Field.