Springfield-Stevens: An Unwanted Match Up
Springfield head coach Keith Bugbee relayed his thoughts as the Pride's bus was navigating its way to Hoboken, N.J., for Wednesday's night rematch with Stevens in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
"I thought with the season they had, our kids deserved a home game," Bugbee said. "I've been doing this a while – this is my 16th time in the tournament – and I think I've been wrong every time."
It's the sentiment of a lot of coaches who believe they have a better resume than what the selection committee determines, but Bugbee's disappointment was palpable.
As it turns out, one of the coaches who agrees with Bugbee is Gene Peluso, the head coach at Stevens.
"We thought, honestly, winning the Empire 8 and going 16-2, we'd be in a different place," Peluso said. "We didn't think we'd be matched up with a really good Springfield team. We're fortunate and happy to have a home game this Wednesday, but we thought we might be in a situation where we had two home games. I just thought we would be held in a little bit higher regard than it appears we are."
Much of the discontent is due to the mutual respect that each coach has for the other's program. While there aren't a whole lot of easy games in the tournament anymore, neither coach expected to have to dive into the tourney against a highly-ranked foe.
"We basically skipped the hors d'oeuvres and went right to the main course," Bugbee said. "They are one of the most dangerous teams in the country. Gene's a really good coach. It's a tough environment there, too."
"We know how good Springfield is and the players know how strong this team is that we're playing," said Peluso. "They are 14-3 and they have won the last 10 games in a row. They are probably saying, 'How come we didn't get a home game?'"
While neither coach talked about it much because they don't want to presume a victory, the fact that the winner gets shipped off to Cortland – the top seed in the region – in the second round likely doesn't sit well either. Fortunately for both Peluso and Bugbee, their players aren't hung up on perceived slights as much as they are.
"None of the guys talk about that," Peluso said. "The coaches talk about it a little bit, but you've got to beat the teams in the North to be the representative and it doesn't matter the order you beat them. The guys are in a good mindset. They don't care about the draw."
"I am probably more disappointed than they are," said Bugbee of his team. "They just want to play. It's a really strong team leadership-wise and character-wise. They know this is a tough game to play, but a rematch with Stevens is something they look forward to."
It may not be what they had hoped for, but, as both coaches said, "It is what it is." On the bright side, it'll probably be the best game of the day.
Gophers Unfazed by Draw
As much as Kyle Hannan and Goucher wanted to have a home game in the first round, especially against a Washington College team they've already defeated this season, you have to remember the last time the Gophers made the tournament. They were shipped off to Middlebury for a midweek match-up, so a drive over the bridge to the Eastern Shore was just fine.
"By this point we were in the 10th hour of our ride," laughed Kyle Hannan on Tuesday about the trip to Vermont. "We're certainly glad that we're at least staying in-region."
Hannan admitted that his players may use the location of the game as a motivational tool, but it really hasn't been a topic of discussion leading into the game.
"Sure, we would have loved to have a home game, but the NCAA didn't see it that way so we're going to Washington College and play the best lacrosse we can."
When asked whether he thought the Gophers would have an advantage knowing that they've already beat the Shoremen, Hannan wasn't so sure.
"It's kind of tricky," he said. "Back in February we beat them, but that was such a long time ago. I think they are considerably better. They have moved some players around and playing in different spots. And they are pretty confident right now with the wins that they've had. They are a different team, but we are as well. We've managed to win 17 games and a league championship. I think it's going to be a heck of a game."
Sweet Home, Owings Mills
Stevenson will be heavy favorites when they entertain Birmingham-Southern, the first team to make the tournament from Alabama, but he has seen enough from the Panthers to gain a level of respect.
"We were able to find out a good bunch about them," Cantabene said. "They have some good, tough kids who can go to the goal and a couple of solid defensive guys. I'm pretty impressed with what they've done, and I'm sure we're going to get a great effort out of them."
BSC is in the tournament because of the performance by goalie Andrew Huffman (15 saves) and the effective zone that shut down Colorado College, the presumptive auto-qualifier, in the SCAC title game. Cantabene is well aware of Huffman's potential, but he likes where his team is at entering the game.
"Seeing that game a little bit, Colorado College took a lot of bad shots. I think when you take a lot of bad shots, you get a goalie hot," Cantabene said. "We've got to take good shots and finish early. We've been shooting the ball a lot better lately and we put a lot of pressure on goalies to make saves. Good for him, but we think we face some of the best goalies in the country, so we'll be ready. But you've always got to worry about a goalie who gets hot and they are going to play some zone, so we've got to get ready for that."
Stevenson has been bolstered late in the season by the return of some injured players, including senior middie Justin Lea and junior attackman Tyler Reid, along with the improved play by others. Cantabene said those injuries may have actually been a net benefit for the Mustangs.
"We've got more of our guys back and guys are getting better," Cantabene said. "They're back and gives us more depth. It helped us a lot early on because the freshmen were used to getting playing time. I think it helped us in the long run with those guys getting hurt, because they'll be a lot fresher at the end of the year."