CASTLETON, Vt. – The Castleton University men's lacrosse team finds itself in a familiar setting: the North Atlantic Conference Tournament championship match for the 15th consecutive year.
The Spartans are facing a familiar opponent: the New England College Pilgrims for the seventh straight season. The match takes place Saturday, May 5, at 3 p.m. at Don Melander Field in Henniker, N.H.
Before Castleton enters into unchartered territory as a member of the Little East Conference next year, it has one final opportunity to win the NAC Tournament title, which would be its fifth NAC championship overall and its first since 2015.
Castleton met Mount Ida in the NAC Tournament title game every year from 2004 to 2010, losing the first six contests to the Mustangs before finally breaking through in 2010. After defeating Husson in 2011, the Spartans have faced the Pilgrims in the championship match every year since 2012, winning in 2013 and 2015.
Speaking of Husson, the Eagles gave the Spartans everything they could handle in Wednesday's semifinal, rallying from a four-goal deficit to tie the game at 7-7 with seven minutes remaining in regulation. Freshman Shane Centerbar, seeing his first action after missing the previous four games due to injury, scored with 2:57 left on the clock, and then the Spartans held on to defeat the Eagles, 8-7, and advance to Saturday's title game.
Meanwhile, New England College spotted Lyndon a 2-0 lead five-and-a-half minutes into their semifinal match Wednesday, and then the Pilgrims scored 15 of the next 16 goals in the first half on their way to a 23-5 victory. Patrick Storie led NEC with six goals, Charles Hacking and Jacob Blanchette each notched a hat trick, and Matt Richard finished with two goals and five assists for seven total points.
After losing its first four games of the season, capped by a 10-9 overtime loss to Norwich, Castleton has won 10 of its last 13 games, including victories over future conference foes Southern Maine and Plymouth State. Through 17 games, the Spartans are averaging 9.4 goals per game, reaching double figures in scoring six times as the focus has been on preventing the opponents from scoring, as Castleton has posted a goals against average of 8.25.
Like Castleton, New England College lost its first four games of the season. However, the Pilgrims have not lost since March 15, winning 14 straight contests heading into Saturday's title game. For the season, NEC is averaging 14.3 goals per game, but the Pilgrims have scored at least 17 goals in six of their last seven games, including three games with more than 20 goals.
New England College has won the last five meetings over Castleton, including the NAC Tournament title games in 2016 and 2017. On April 23 in Henniker, the Pilgrims scored the first seven goals of the game on their way to a 17-6 victory. Jason Sedell led Castleton with three goals, with Kyle Lutinski scoring twice and Sam Siegel dishing out two assists. Josh Gosselin won 20-of-26 face-offs, and Brandon Myron made eight saves in net. Storie and Hacking scored four goals apiece for the Pilgrims, Richard collected seven assists, and NEC goalie William Platt made 18 saves.
The winner of the NAC Tournament championship match will earn the league's automatic bid into the NCAA Division III Men's Lacrosse Tournament. The entire 36-team field will be announced by the NCAA Sunday, May 6, at 9 p.m., with four first round games taking place Tuesday, May 8, followed by 16 second round contests Wednesday, May 9.