Middlebury held an early 3-0 lead over Tufts, but a late three-goal burst by the Jumbos gave Tufts an 11-8 victory at Youngman Field at Alumni Stadium on Saturday. In a game pitting two top 10 teams, the fourth-ranked Jumbos improve to 11-1 overall and sit atop the NESCAC with a 8-0 record, clinching the top seed with one conference game to play. The 10th ranked Panthers (8-3, 5-3) could host a quarterfinal game on Sunday, May 1 with either a win against Williams or a loss by Wesleyan on Friday, April 29.
Middlebury scored a pair of quick goals inside the first two minutes of play, as George Curtis made it a 3-0 lead on a transition goal at 9:38. Tufts answered with three straight goals later in the quarter, as Jumbo leading-scorer D.J. Hessler assisted on all three. The Panthers regained the lead on a Mike Giordano tally at 2:06.
In the second quarter, Tufts scored a pair, as Hessler bullied his way in for a doorstep score at 8:46 and Kevin McCormick put a high corner shot past Panther goalie Ryan Deane 36 seconds later for a 5-4 lead. Tim Cahill scored the equalizer for Middlebury at 4:55 off a nice feed from David Hild.
In the third quarter, the teams alternated scores twice, before Hessler notched his second goal on a two-man advantage at 1:37, for an 8-7 lead. Hild answered in the fourth on a transition score set-up by a great pass from Billy Chapman, tying the game at eight-all with 13:25 left to play.
Tufts broke the tie, starting its decisive run on a Matt Callahan tally with 11:36 remaining. Sean Kirwan’s long-stick goal at 6:41 gave the Jumbos a 10-8 lead before Matt Witko scored an empty-net goal with 59 seconds left to play, for the 11-8 victory.
Middlebury out-shot Tufts 57-39, matched the Jumbos in groundballs 41-41, and trailed Tufts 14-9 in face-off wins.
Andrew Conner and Erich Pfeffer paced the Panthers with two goals each, while Hild and Giordano each added a goal and an assist, as Deane made 14 saves in goal.
Hessler collected six points with two goals and four helpers, as Witko collected a hat-trick. Nick Rhoads added a game-best nine groundballs, winning 14-23 face-offs. In goal, Patton Watkins made 18 saves for the Jumbos.