WATERVILLE — Wednesday afternoon’s North Atlantic Conference showdown between the Thomas College and University of Maine at Farmington men’s lacrosse teams had everything a local rivalry game should.
The two schools — which are less than an hour away from each other — have a combined 10 former central Maine standouts on their rosters. UMF head coach Tom Sheridan, who has also been the coach at Messalonskee High School for the last 20 years, held the same position with the Terriers for six seasons before making the trip west to coach the Beavers.
“I have a couple Messalonskee kids on my team, a couple Mt. Blue kids and some other kids in the central Maine area — and they have some kids as well,” Sheridan said. “…Being a high school coach for 19 years or 20 years, whatever it is now, I’ve seen a lot of these kids come through, so it’s good to see a lot of them play on in college.”
Most importantly of all, the game was competitive. Farmington had a chance to tie the game in the closing seconds at Smith Field, but couldn’t get the equalizer as Thomas held on for a thrilling 9-8 victory.
“In terms of the growth of our program when people are thinking central Maine lacrosse, of course, you’ve got the big boys like Colby and Bowdoin, but we want to be right in that mix,” second-year Thomas coach Jake Cohen said. “The first is your conference rival, who is right down the block. You’ve got to be getting the W’s against them. It’s nice to pull out that win even though it got a little dicey at the end. It’s good for the growth of our program showing the direction that we’re headed.”
As of late, that direction has been the right one for the Terriers (3-6, 3-2 NAC). Thomas started out the season by dropping its first six games, all on the road, but rebounded with three straight victories over Johnson State College, Lyndon State College and UMF, respectively.
“The guys held together, and it was a team effort in terms of both the coaching staff and the team and the captains knowing let’s hold the fort and things will improve,” Cohen said of the turnaround. “Similar to chopping a tree, that tree doesn’t fall during the first swing. It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”
The way the Terriers finished Wednesday proved to be just enough in the end.
Thomas struck first with a goal from sophomore Derek Driscoll, but Mt. Blue grad Brandon Melville answered by first setting up senior Michael Keim for a score and moments later finding the back of the net himself to give UMF a 2-1 lead 3:39 into the contest.
The Terriers responded with three unanswered goals — two from senior Gunnar Shelton and another from Driscoll — to take a 4-2 lead, though, as Thomas remained in front until midway through the fourth quarter.
Thomas clung to a 7-6 lead with just over six minutes remaining when UMF finally drew even. Farmington senior T.C. Peters rode Thomas’ Kade Strout, of Richmond, out of bounds along the sidelines to force a turnover, and before the Terriers could recover, sophomore Nathan Chase had already advanced the ball into the attacking zone. Chase dumped the ball off to a wide open Casey Wrigley — a 2013 graduate of Messalonskee — who easily finished off the play to tie the game at 7-7 with 6:02 to play.
A series of miscues down the stretch would prove to be too much for the Beavers to overcome though.
Junior David Grainger was whistled for a slashing penalty with 4:28 remaining, and just 27 seconds into the man advantage the Terriers took advantage. Thomas patiently moved the ball around as former Maranacook standout Jesse Evans’ pass set up an open look for Keim, who ripped a shot past Mt. Blue grad Ben Altmaier for the go-ahead goal.
It took Thomas just 31 seconds to double its advantage, as Shelton got an open shot on Altmaier off a turnover that the senior goalkeeper initially stopped. He could not secure the ball, however, and it ultimately found its way past the line for the goal to put Thomas ahead 9-7 with 3:30 remaining.
“Mistakes happen,” Sheridan said. “You learn from it and move on.”
The Beavers did just that, and nearly managed to force overtime.
Wrigley struck again with 49.3 seconds to play to cut the deficit to just one, and with 27.3 seconds remaining Altmaier recovered a ground ball to give UMF one last chance at forcing overtime. Former Madison Bulldog Jake Linkletter got a shot on net that was saved by Thomas goalie Carlos Cardona with 15 seconds to go, but the ball bounced over the net and out of bounds — retaining possession with the Beavers — with 10.6 seconds to play. Following a timeout, Chase got an open look at a shot but his attempt was just wide to seal the victory for the Terriers.
“We had a nice inbounds play right there and it worked too,” Sheridan said. “We had a guy open for a look and a shot, but it just went wide and their goalie made a save on another one. We had two chances in a 10 second span so that’s the good thing about lacrosse, you can go pretty quickly and still get a goal.
“…I felt we were in the game the whole way through, we just didn’t get our breaks in the end there. I thought at the very end there we had an opportunity to tie it up there. We scored that eighth goal to get close there and then on the face off I thought we had a chance.”
Melville led the way for UMF with two goals and three assists, Linkletter and Wrigley each had two goals and Altmaier finished with 21 saves. Shelton had a game-high four goals for Thomas, Driscoll poured in a pair of scores and Evans had one goal and one assist.
The Terriers will look to keep their momentum going in their next game Saturday at 4 p.m. when they host Green Mountain College for senior day.
“We’re really excited for the playoffs to start in a week or two,” Cohen said. “We’ve got some good momentum, and we’re excited to take into senior day on Saturday.”
As for the Beavers (1-6, 1-4 NAC), they will be back in action Saturday at 5 p.m. when they travel to take on Johnston State in a game to be played at New England College.
Evan Crawley — 621-5640 [email protected] Twitter: @Evan_CrawleyMTM