A perfect 8-0.
The Big Red men’s lacrosse team gave it everything they had on Saturday, April 27 to emerge on top in a battle of North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) unbeatens on the road against Ohio Wesleyan.
The regular season finale victory brings the Big Red to a final mark of 14-2 (8-0 NCAC), and earns them the #1 seed in the upcoming NCAC Championship Tournament. The win also secured the program’s 18th NCAC regular season title, and improves their record in a storied rivalry with OWU to 54-47-1 all-time.
In an interview in the week leading up to the showdown, Head Coach Mike Caravana discussed the keys he and his coaching staff were focusing in on to get their team ready to go for Saturday.
“It’s a matter of making sure we practice with game-intensity all week long. We have to get our guys prepared for that high energy level for a full game,” Caravana said.
It certainly didn’t take any extra motivation to get the whole team fired up for the biggest game of their season to date. Every season (or so it seems), the fate of the NCAC Championship is decided on a field with these two teams squaring off: The Big Red and The Battling Bishops.
Caravana also added, “This year’s team is a talented group, but we have been inconsistent at times. We have had some inconsistent quarters and halves.”
Saturday’s game took place on the Battling Bishops home field in Delaware, OH: Shelby Stadium. OWU looked to be the more comfortable of the two teams in much of a tightly-contested first half.
After Denison pulled even and brought the score to 2-2 with just over seven minutes remaining in the first quarter, OWU midfielder Will Anton ‘21 used a pair of goals in seven seconds of game time to give his team a 4-2 first quarter lead.
The Bishops would stretch their lead to four goals twice before entering the half with an 8-4 advantage over the Big Red.
Denison attackman Spencer Butler ‘19 helped to lead the comeback effort for his team in the second half, where he tallied all seven of his goals on the day. That included his three consecutive third quarter goals (all unassisted) to cut the deficit down to just two after it had swelled up to five to begin the second half.
While Butler would go on to score four of the five Big Red goals in the third quarter, his team still trailed 9-12 entering the fourth quarter as a result of a pair of unassisted OWU goals to close the quarter.
Big Red attackman, Brooks Davy ‘19 commented on the team’s attitude heading into the fourth quarter. “There was no doubt within the team that we could come back and win. We have always been a second half team so we were confident in our ability to win,” Davy said.
The Big Red came out firing in the fourth quarter behind a stellar performance from their goalie, Reeves McKenney ‘21 who had a career-high 17 saves on 30 shots.
Over an eleven-minute span, the Big Red rattled off seven unanswered goals to take a commanding 16-12 lead with just over two minutes remaining in the contest.
They played their best when it mattered most in order to secure what was their first lead of the entire game.
Despite trailing for virtually the entire game, the Big Red went on to win by a final score of 16-13.
Butler accounted for three of the team’s seven fourth quarter goals to move past Andy John for second place on Denison’s all-time scoring list with an incredible 176 goals on his way to being named NCAC Player of the Week.
Midfielder Jake Waxter ‘19 added two goals and two assists in the effort. Peter Pittroff ‘20 had one goal of his own to go along with two assists. All-American faceoff specialist, Henry DeCamp ‘19 made his presence felt in his first action in six games after returning from injury and went 18-30 in the faceoff circle.
The thrilling win caps off a successful regular season for the Big Red. More importantly, it gives them momentum entering the NCAC Conference Tournament with home-field advantage for the entirety of the four-team playoff.
They will be in action at home on Thursday, May 2 at 4 p.m. against #4-seeded Wooster in the semifinals.
The winner will advance to the championship round against the winner of the second semi final between #2-seeded OWU and #3-seeded Kenyon at the home of the highest remaining seed.
The tournament champion receives an automatic bid to the Division III NCAA Tournament.
The Big Red will look to avenge last season’s third-round tournament loss to OWU if they can keep things rolling in the coming weeks.