LEWISTON, Maine -- The Bates men's lacrosse team's 7-6 comeback victory over Hamilton last Saturday was only the latest evidence to support the following hypothesis: The Bobcats are looking pretty darned good these days, at all points on the field.
In their last game before final exams began this week, the Bobcats took only 26 shots to Hamilton's 38, but Bates' defense was too strong for Hamilton's attack to generate good scoring opportunities, at one point allowing the Continentals 10 consecutive shots, with none connecting. Hamilton's goalie came up with eight saves, but Bates junior Charlie Kazarian had nine.
Three different players had two goals apiece to lead Bates' balanced attack. Of the team's four goals in the fourth quarter came, the middle two came from a relative youngster, Jack Strain, and they were sandwiched by tallies from a pair of seniors in Kyle Starr and Rob Highland, who scored the game-winner with 89 seconds left in regulation. Bates controlled 12 out of 16 faceoffs in the game.
"Directly related to our students' will to prepare."
"Part of our success comes from the fact that we get contributions from so many, at both ends of field and at the faceoff square," said head coach Peter Lasagna. "Saturday's effort is directly related to our students' will to prepare. For us to focus and train as diligently as we did, heading into finals, speaks volumes about these young men."
From offense to defense, goalies to faceoff men, and from proud seniors to precocious first-year players, there's no doubt that this 2013 team feels more complete, its highest degree of team chemistry in some time.
At 6-4, the Bobcats don't qualify as a runaway train just yet (notably, however, the 10-7 setback at Williams on March 30 is their most "lopsided" thus far), but compared to recent years, the victories have still been piling up quite nicely.
They have their most wins since the 2007 club that finished 6-6, and with NESCAC dates remaining at Tufts (April 16), at Connecticut College (April 20) and against Colby (April 24), Bates already has its most conference victories since 2006, with four. The Bobcats are currently tied for fifth place in the league with Bowdoin, and with two more NESCAC wins than five other teams in the league, they are in prime position to make their first appearance in the NESCAC Championship since the tournament expanded to eight teams in 2008.
"Everything has been a step up from previous years," said senior defenseman Andrew Berry, who leads the team with 14 caused turnovers, including a critical one that led to Highland's game-winner. "The team chemistry has been great from Day 1, our conditioning has been on another level... There have been a couple of key wins for us that came after tough losses. Those were games that we probably didn't win in years past."
Bates actually lost its first two games this season, against Skidmore and Middlebury, but rebounded with a dramatic overtime 10-9 overtime win over Amherst in the March 10 home opener, with senior Dan Hines scoring the game-winner. That started a three-game win streak that was interrupted by a tough 12-11 loss at Bowdoin. But the Bobcats again responded, going on to post their most lopsided conference victory since the NESCAC became a playing conference in 2001, a 14-6 pasting of Trinity.
A pair of Jacks.
Bates' attack is scoring goals on 27.3 percent of its shots thus far; that may not sound significant, until the number is compared to the team's figure in the previous five seasons, ranging from 21.1 percent in 2012 to 23.5 percent in 2008.
A pair of Jacks from New Jersey — Jack Strain (Montclair, N.J.) and Jack Allard (Ridgewood, N.J.), share the team lead in points, with 23 apiece. Allard, who has become Bates' first 20-goal scorer since 2009, was recently named a freshman to watch by InsideLacrosse.com.
This team is balanced everywhere you look. The Bobcats' top 10 point-scorers thus far comprise two freshmen, four sophomores, one junior and three seniors. And despite the loss to graduation of three starting defenders, including All-American Kevin Helm, Bates' perenially sturdy defense has remained as solid as ever.
In front of Kazarian, is senior Berry, senior captain Charlie Clark and senior captain Torben Noto. But a youthful infusion has certainly helped raise the unit's level of play this season. Freshmen David Cappellini and Colby Spehler have already become regular starters, while sophomores Connor Cerniglia and Evan Chen and first-years Matt Proto and Karl Rickett have also played very effectively at times.
Fifty-four of the team's 99 goals (54.5 percent) have been scored by either Allard, Strain or Highland, and 36 of the Bobcats' 58 assists (62.1 percent) have come from either Hines, sophomore Nick Ford or Starr. Sophomore Mac Jackson and junior Paul Donovan are the biggest reasons Bates currently ranks first in the NESCAC, and 31st among 203 Division III teams in faceoff success: 59.6 percent (130 of 218) of all faceoffs thus far have been controlled by the Bobcats, with Jackson winning 86 of 149 (57.7 percent) and Donovan winning 43 of 68 (63.2 percent). Jackson entered the week leading all other NESCAC players in ground balls, with 69 -- 18 more than any other player.
Hines, son of New England that he is (hailing from Manchester, Mass.), likens the team's balanced mental approach to what they call the Patriot Way down in Foxborough, Mass. "Everybody accepts their position on this team. It's a matter of recognizing what your job within the team is, and doing it," Hines said.
Bates' stiffest challenge on the schedule.
Bates' next game is at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 16, at Tufts, ranked fourth nationally, a game that may well represent Bates' stiffest challenge on the schedule.
"The Jumbos are very good. But so are the Bobcats," said Lasagna. "I believe that this 2013 team is a confident bunch. They know what they are capable of. Our group is excited about the opportunity to play one of the best teams in the country, in front of a passionate, Bates lacrosse crowd in Boston."