After opening Northeast Conference play with a thrilling 6-5 win against Bryant on March 18, Mount St. Mary’s has dropped three consecutive league games. And now the team is in a must-win situation where a loss to Hobart on Saturday would eliminate it from contention for a spot in the four-team conference tournament.
“These final two games are playoff games to keep playing,” coach Tom Gravante said Thursday morning. “I think we’re going to need a little bit of help from some other teams. … But we know. It’s no secret. Our guys know that this is going to be a big game in a hostile environment. … It’s going to be an exciting atmosphere up there, and our guys have to be able to handle the pressure. It’s a must-win.”
The losing streak for the Mountaineers (4-8, 1-3 NEC) was capped by a 9-6 loss Saturday at Wagner, which earned only its second win in 17 meetings in the series. While calling it “one of the worst officiated games” in his 23 years as a head coach, Gravante said the team swung and missed on an opportunity to remain in the thick of the race for the league tournament.
Although Mount St. Mary’s can still be in the hunt for a postseason spot with victories over the Statesmen (6-6, 3-1) and Saint Joseph’s (3-9, 0-4) on April 29, a win against the Seahawks would have given the team a little wiggle room. Now the players and coaches know that a loss at Hobart will make the season finale against the Hawks moot.
So how will the Mountaineers handle the pressure against the Statesmen, who will honor their 1986, 1987, 1988 and 1989 teams at halftime? Gravante, who as an attackman helped the 1986, 1987 and 1988 squads capture the NCAA Division III championships, is just as curious to see how the players deal with that scrutiny.
“They have two choices,” he said. “They handle it and play well or the pressure gets to them and they don’t. After the game on Saturday night, I shared with them what’s going on and said, ‘Listen, as young people playing an intense part, part of being successful is handling the pressure. When the NCAA tournament starts, those teams that handle the pressure and play well will win and move on. That’s the bottom line. So we have to handle the pressure. We as a staff are going to prepare you, but you need to go into this game with the right mindset.’”