Through the first six games, No. 5 Stevenson had won five games but had yet to demonstrate the killer instinct that Paul Cantabene was looking for.
On Tuesday night, the coach finally saw what he had been waiting for in the reigning national champion Mustangs’ 15-9 upset of No. 3 Tufts at Mustang Stadium in Owings Mills.
Stevenson (6-1) never trailed against the Jumbos (4-1) as the offense scored the contest’s first three goals. On two occasions – once in the first quarter and once in the second – Tufts narrowed the gap to one goal, but the Mustangs regained sizable cushions.
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And Stevenson scored five of the third period’s seven goals to put the game out of reach. It was a development that Cantabene was happy to witness.
“We’ve let a lot of teams back into games this year,” he said. “I thought we made the plays. We were up six [at 13-7 at the beginning of the fourth quarter] and then Tufts bangs two and I’m thinking, ‘Here we go again.’ But we made a play, got fouled and scored on the man-up to kind of stymie them. I think that was a turning point for us. In the past, we didn’t make that play and let them back into the game. But we made the plays tonight to win the game, and that’s what we’ve been emphasizing with our guys. Make the plays to win the game, not the plays to lose the game. A lot of it is understanding that we don’t need to go to the goal with four minutes left. We’ve got to grind and make them chase us and foul us, and I think we’re doing a much better job of that. I think the guys understand that now.”
The Mustangs’ 15 goals are not a season high, and the six-goal margin is not the biggest of the year, but Tuesday’s victory may have been their more complete effort on offense, defense and special teams.
“I think this was our best game of the year as far as playing as a team,” said sophomore attackman Stephen Banick, who recorded five goals and one assist. “Coach has said that we’ve got to learn from our mistakes, and we’ve got to fix them for future games.”
Cantabene did not dismiss the notion that the win against Tufts could be viewed as a statement for a Stevenson program that has been leapfrogged in recent United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association polls. But he acknowledged that the team still has work to do, beginning with this weekend’s Mustang Classic involving a Friday night game against Nazareth (2-3) and a Saturday night tilt with No. 6 SUNY-Cortland (5-1).
“We’ve got a lot of games to go,” he said. “We’ve got Nazareth on Friday and Cortland on Saturday and then [No. 9] Lynchburg [on March 29]. This is just two of five, and we’ve won the first two. Ask me that after Lynchburg. After Lynchburg, I’ll let you know where we stand. But this is a good win for our program and where we are because Tufts was coming in playing some of the best lacrosse in the country and scoring a ton of goals.”