It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.......
Dickens may have been speaking on 1700's European politics, but there is not a more appropriate quote for the feelings of the two teams at the end of a sudden-death overtime game. Over the course of two days, Alabama Lacrosse (3-1, 0-1) had the best of times in a thrilling 2OT win against the Tennessee Volunteers (2-4, 0-1) and a the worst of times in a heartbreaking 2OT loss to the Ole Miss Rebels (3-3, 1-2).
On Friday night, temperatures dipped to 35 degrees at gametime as the two rivals duked it out in what turned out to be a game for the ages. Junior attackman Chris Palasek (Rocky Point, NY/ Rocky Point) wasted no time getting the Alabama offense going, notching the game’s first score only 1:30 in. Tennessee would trade goals, responding to tie it 1-1, only to see freshman midfielder Colin Kruger (Orlando, FL/ First Academy) rip a jump shot from 12 yards out to take the lead, his first tally of the year. The Vols would even things up on an isolation dodge from behind the net.
Minutes later, the Tide hit their stride and began to find a rhythm offensively. Sophomore attackman Tom Cheek (Baltimore, MD/ St. Paul’s) would score to make it 3-2. Freshman attackman Chris Balla (Washington, DC/ St. John’s), who continues to be a huge contributor for the Tide in his first year, decided to take things into his hands and would score two unassisted goals to extend Alabama’s lead to 5-2.
A Tennessee goal in transition and a low corner rip from 15 yards out pulled the Vols to within one goal. But Alabama would answer again. Sophomore midfielder Davis Diamond (Norcross, GA/ Norcross) found Balla on the crease with a nice feed from X (the area behind the goal) for his third goal of the half.
Balla wasn’t finished. With 4 minutes remaining in the first half, Tennessee goalie David Catterton took the ball down the field through the Tide defense and let a shot go from 15 yards out. Alabama goalie Jake Springer (Baltimore, MD/ St. Paul’s) saved Catterton’s shot, sprinted downfield and launched a 50-yard pass to Balla who finished on the open net for his fourth goal of the half, putting Alabama up 7-4 at halftime.
The back and forth battle for goals didn’t stop at halftime. Tennessee came out hot and scored two quick goals to start the third quarter. Not to be outdone, freshman midfielder Alex Ternahan (Bethany Beach, DE/ Worcester Prep) hit a low corner shot right off the faceoff. Only two minutes later, Palasek found Tom Cheek on the crease (area directly in front of the goal) to make it 9-6 Alabama.
But the Vols would battle back. Tennessee would score 3 straight to tie things up at 9-9 midway through the fourth quarter. With 3 minutes left, Balla forced a Vols turnover on a clear and hit Davis Diamond for the score to make it 10-9 Bama. A quick faceoff win for the Vols gave them possession which proved to be costly for the Tide, as they conceded the game-tying goal on another isolation dodge from X.
Tennessee would get one last chance to win the game with 13 seconds left, but Springer would make the save to force the game into overtime.
The first overtime period was dominated by Tennessee. An early Alabama possession was short-lived, as UT goalie David Catterton denied the Tide for a crucial stop. Tennessee would maintain possession for the remainder of the overtime period.
The Alabama defense was considerably fatigued at this point. The emotions of a tough game and the weather had taken their toll (in sub 40 degree temps, the molded plastic of the lacrosse head is more brittle and prone to breaking. At least one Bama defender had his equipment break in this way). Tennessee’s offense sustained possession and didn’t give Alabama an opportunity for a moment’s rest. But the Tide stood their ground. A UT attackman had a one-on-one shot to end the game with 1 minute left in OT, but Springer denied him on the doorstep. Defenseman Teddy Manders (Potomac, MD/ Gonzaga) would intercept a subsequent pass from Tennessee to end the first OT.
The Vols won the first faceoff of double overtime but would turn the ball over on an errant pass. The Crimson Tide cleared it successfully and called timeout to draw up a play. Sophomore midfielder Jake Griffith (Atlanta, GA/ Riverwood) would then find Tom Cheek wide open on the crease for the game-winner.
An emotional win over a heated rival caused the bench to clear and dogpile Cheek as the team celebrated the victory. When asked how he felt about the win, Springer responded
I almost had like six heart attacks during this game, but this is so satisfying. The looks on my teammates faces after (Tom) Cheek buried the game winner were PRICELESS.
Cheek took to twitter later that night:
Battered and bruised but all that matters is now I'm 2-0 against UT #RollTide— Tom Cheek (@tcheek40) March 2, 2013
With his 3 point game (1G, 2A), Chris Palasek took over sole possession of the All-Time Alabama Record for Career Points (117). Here is a link to the record book. The box score from this game can be found here.
Two days later Bama found itself in a similar situation against Ole Miss. This series has been one of the most contested for the Tide in recent years, as now 3 of the last 4 meetings have been decided by a single goal.
This was very much a goalie battle all day, as ex high school teammates Jake Springer and Nick Loverde (Baltimore, MD/ St. Paul’s) were the netmiders for Bama and Ole Miss, respectively. Loverde had been on fire all year, entering this game with a season save average of .786 (the MCLA record for single season average is .699, belonging to Craig Sini, the Northwestern goalie from 2005-2007). Between these two men, over 40 shots were turned away compared to 15 scored. Loverde and Springer are currently (as of writing) #1 and #2 in the country in save percentage, so this was a case of the two best goalies in the country squaring off.
Chris Balla would notch the first tally of the game on an extra-man opportunity from the right wing. Alabama would hold their 1-0 lead until 30 seconds remained in the first quarter. Springer was beaten on a 12 yard shot that deflected off his stick to even the score 1-1.
In the second quarter, Crimson Tide midfielder Jake Griffith beat his defender in the middle of the field, planted, turned and stung the top right corner to make it 2-1 Alabama. Minutes later, sophomore midfielder Davis Diamond dodged and found attackman Tom Cheek on the crease to make it 3-1 Tide. Around this time gameplay got very chippy from both teams, in particular and incident where Davis Diamond took exception to a hit he took from an Ole Miss defender riding him out of bounds and retaliated. Ole Miss would answer with a fast break goal and an extra man score to make it 3-3 at halftime. These penalties, combined with the offsides infractions, missed passes, and competitive ground ball play made each possession precious. This was very much two evenly matched teams.
The third quarter was marred by sloppy play by both teams. Alabama committed multiple unforced errors and wasn’t able to maintain possessions. The Rebels, finally getting a number of scoring chances, either missed the cage or were denied by Springer. Chris Balla would record the Tide’s only 3rd quarter goal on a rip to the left corner. Ole Miss answered less than 20 seconds later with an unsettled goal in transition.
The fourth quarter was defined by a plethora of chances both squandered and capitalized by both teams. Early on, Davis Diamond would power a lefty jump shot past Loverde’s hip to make it 5-4. Ole Miss would respond yet again, converting on their second extra man opportunity with a shot that ricocheted off Springer’s right shoulder and into the net.
Midway through the fourth, Jake Griffith converted on a shot from 5 yards out to take the lead. The 6-5 lead was short-lived, however, as Alabama was called for an unsportsmanlike penalty moments later and would concede their third man down goal of the game.
Diamond came through yet again with 5 minutes to go, seizing the lead 7-6 for Alabama on an unassisted goal. After an Alabama save and successful clear, careless ball handling gave the Rebels possession with 2 minutes left, which they promptly converted into a transition score to tie things up 7-7. The difference maker in this game was Loverde, who turned away 11 of 14 Tide shots in the 4th quarter alone.
This sent the game into overtime. Junior faceoff specialist Craig Landru (Rochester Hills, MI/ Eisenhower) would win the opening faceoff for the Crimson Tide. Despite this, Alabama turned the ball over and conceded possession to the Rebels for the remainder of the first overtime. Ole Miss would fire off 6 shots, but couldn’t seem to get them on cage. With 13 seconds left, the Rebels would get a shot on goal to the lower right corner, but Springer turned it away and deflected it out of bounds.
Early in the second overtime, a 30 second scrum for possession ensued on Alabama’s defensive half of the field. At least 5 different players had the ball briefly, but couldn’t secure possession for either team. As a Rebel midfielder picked up the ball, Alabama was called for a costly slashing penalty. Ole Miss would work the ball to X, where attackman Mac Ford snuck past the right side of the crease. Ford faked low and buried the game-winner high over Springer to win it for the Rebels, 8-7. The box score can be found here.
With the loss, Alabama drops to 3-1 overall and 0-1 in their division. The Tide travel to Columbia, SC next weekend for games against the South Carolina Gamecocks (3-2, 0-0) (Friday, 8pm EST) and the West Virginia Mountaineers (0-4, 0-2) (Saturday, 1pm EST). The SELC look very wide open right now, with only Virginia Tech (4-0, 2-0), Georgia (8-0, 0-0), and Richmond (3-1, 2-1) really dominating their opponents. It looks like everyone else can beat anyone on any given day.