Tufts Worth the Wait, Proves Its Worth
Tufts goalkeeper Steven Foglietta made 24 saves -- including 13 in the second half and one with less than two minutes left -- to preserve the top-ranked Jumbos' 14-13 win over second-ranked Stevenson in a weather-delayed classic under the lights Wednesday.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com
TOWSON, Md. -- It will go down as a classic given the crazy circumstances -- first the change of venue, then two pregame lightning delays totaling an hour and 45 minutes, then top-ranked Tufts holding off second-ranked Stevenson for a 14-13 win in what was the most anticipated regular season game of the year in men's NCAA Division III lacrosse.
Heavy rain in the Baltimore area Wednesday morning flooded Stevenson's home grass and dirt-spotted field in Owings Mills, Md., making it unplayable. So Wednesday's North vs. South showdown, originally a 4 p.m. start, was moved a few more miles south to Towson University's turf field and the start time was bumped back to 8 p.m. Teams arrived about an hour before that, but the first faceoff was delayed more than 90 minutes because of severe weather.
Players warmed up. Lightning flashed. Heavy rain passed through. In the locker rooms, players on both sides were told the game might not happen on this night if they couldn't start at or before 10 p.m.
"We wanted to play it. But there was a while there, it was like a 15-minute window that if we didn't get it in, it wasn't going to happen," Tufts senior attackman D.J. Hessler said. "We were a little on edge, but we kept doing our preparation, our warmup like we were going, just waiting to hear the word."
Last lightning struck at just the right time. Enough time for rules to allow players back on the field for the desired start time. Stevenson's Ray Witte won the opening faceoff against Tufts' Nick Rhoads and the game was on without further delay.
Around 10 p.m. the last announcement from the stadium public address announcer was made as to not upset the neighbors of Towson. The players, of course, still played. The lights stayed on until game's end, which turned out to be a half hour before midnight.
They battled back and forth in a frantic manner that was expected from two fast-paced teams and offenses. The rain stopped. Stevenson controlled faceoffs and time of possession, but Tufts made the better of its chances, scoring on quick strikes in transition.
The Jumbos scored three goals in 1:28 to tie the game and then take an 8-6 halftime lead. They scored twice more in 59 seconds early in the third to build the lead to four. Stevenson crawled back. Taking 76 shots helped, but many of them were high or wide. A few hit the pipe, and Tufts goaltender Steven Foglietta finished with 24 saves -- including 13 in the second half and one with less than two minutes left with the Jumbos holding on to their one-goal lead.
Junior attackman Sean Kirwan had four goals for Tufts, and Hessler, junior midfielder Kevin McCormick and senior midfielder Matt Witko each had hat tricks. McCormick added three assists. But the Jumbos mobbed their junior goalie, Foglietta, after the final whistle.
"There was one key in that game, and that's Steven Foglietta," Tufts coach Mike Daly said. "Not just saves, but he was taking them off the foot, leg, back, failed clears, jumping back in there. We felt faceoffs and goalie play were going to be the difference in the game, and if we could have one out of two of them, we were going to be in the game... We got great goalie play. That kept us in the game. Our offense did what they needed to do. It was just a great lacrosse game."
In the larger context, the win, and the fact that the game was able to be played, means a lot for Tufts. It had never played Stevenson before and desperately wanted to reprove itself among Division III's elite this season. The Jumbos traveled seven hours south to get a game like this on the schedule that would help their NCAA tournament resume. This was Tufts' fourth game of the season and first against a ranked team -- an undefeated 8-0 team at that.
"It was great measuring stick," Tufts senior defenseman Alec Bialosky said after the game in the bowels of Towson's athletic complex, as Wednesday night turned into Thursday morning. "To quote a personal favorite, Ric Flair, 'To be the best you have to beat the best. Woo!' We wanted to come down here and send a message that last year wasn't a fluke. We're legit. We're coming down. Stevenson was saying, 'We should have played Tufts in the national championship [last season]. Salisbury played bad.' Whatever. We'll show up and play any day of the week."
Any day of the week except Thursday, according to Tufts coach Mike Daly. If the game was cancelled Wednesday night, it may have never happened because, Daly said, he would not have agreed to reschedule for the next day. The defending national champion Jumbos begin their conference season Saturday and have another game Monday, and they were not about to prolong what was already a four-day spring break trip to Baltimore.
Tufts took a long bus ride down Sunday afternoon and stayed in a Hunt Valley, Md., hotel for three days. The team practiced at Stevenson during its stay and hung out the other times, eating fast food and watching movies, and bonding like they did on a spring break trip to Long Island last year.
On Wednesday, the Jumbos held a team meeting at 11 a.m. in which they talked about the opportunity at hand. It was a calm start to a day that wouldn't go as planned, aside from leaving the game with a win.
"We didn't watch film; we just sort of talked about how we were grateful for the opportunity that we had. Just sort of humbled ourselves," Bialosky said. "We watched some movies in the hotel. That's the best part about these trips, along with playing in May, is just to hang out with all the guys in the hotel. Then we finally got here, and we were just waiting to go. I think we stretched three times as a team. We got out there, came back in. There was a point where they told us we might not even go. We were just chomping at the bit, so it was great that we actually got to play."
Finally, a few hours later, at 12:10 a.m. Thursday, Tufts' charter buses pulled out of the ramp at Johnny Unitas Stadium. "We've had a long day," Daly said. The bad news: Tufts had to cancel a charity event back home in Massachusetts on Thursday, because the team needed to stay overnight in Baltimore. The good news: No traffic on the way back to the hotel.
And maybe no traffic on their way back to championship weekend in May.
"We're psyched," Daly said earlier, leaving the field, his tired tone contrasting his use of an exciting word. "We got the game in, and that's what we wanted to come here for. It's definitely what we wanted to do."
"I would not be surprised if we saw them in May," Bialosky said of a potential rematch with Stevenson in the postseason. "We just have to get there first."