That big opportunity turned into the biggest loss of the season of the season for Bates, which fell behind early and couldn’t recover in a 12-5 loss at Garcelon Field.
“We’ve had a great season up to this point, and there’s, I think, a lot for us to still look forward to, but I think maybe the moment was a litle too big for us, being that this was the first time where we’re playing at home against a Top 10 team in a big game,” Bates coach Brett Allen said.
The Bobcats (10-2, 5-2 NESCAC), ranked ninth in the latest IWLCA Division III Coaches poll, won the opening draw and recorded the first shot of the game, which missed.
“If that shot goes in maybe it relaxes everybody,” Allen said.
Instead, there was never a time for the Bates players to take it easy. The Panthers (10-0, 6-0) got aggressive and began pressuring the Bobcats. Bates committed 13 turnovers in the first half. Only four of those were caused by Middlebury, but the Panthers’ full-field, in-your-face play rattled the Bobcats.
“I definitely think that we made more unforced errors today than we have in previous games,” Allen said. “We turned it over on our clear, we turned it over in the offensive end.”
Dominance in possession led to the Panthers gaining a head of steam on offense in the first half.
Laurel Pascal scored two minutes in for Middlebury, then waited another five before scoring again. The Panthers didn’t wait long for two more goals, getting one from Megan Griffin 50 seconds later, then another from Claire Russell less than two minutes later after Allen called his first timeout.
Bridget Instrum scored just after the midway point of the first half to make it 5-0 against Bates’ top-ranked NESCAC defense, which came into the game allowing just over five goals per game.
The Bobcats finally got on the board less than a minute later, with Moriah Greenstein scoring from free-position. Sydney Cowles scored five minutes later to give Bates momentum for the first time in the game.
That momentum didn’t last into halftime however. Mary O’Connell scored with less than three minutes before intermission to make it 6-2 at the half.
Middlebury one-upped its first-half start by scoring the first six goals of the second half. Chrissy Ritter and Instrum both scored before the three-minute mark, Alli Sciarretta scored twice in 12 seconds eight minutes in, and Griffin and Pascal both scored again before the half was 12 minutes old.
That spree made it 12-2 and started a running clock. But that was as far as the advantage grew for the Panthers, who average more than 15 goals per game.
Bates ended the game on a more positive note that it started either half, scoring the final three goals. Cowles scored twice and assisted on a Camille Belletete goal. She also had a would-be goal go unnoticed, with a hard shot bouncing out of the inside of the net with no call from the officials.
“It was a positive finish, there’s no question,” Allen said. “It was just good to see that we were able to generate some shots, obviously finish on a few of them to give us some confidence moving forward.”
Hannah Jeffrey made nine saves in net for Bates, with many of them coming on free-position shots. Katie Mandigo stopped seven of 12 shots and spent a lot of time aggressively defending out of her crease.
The Bobcats are off until April 19, when they get back into NESCAC play on the road at Tufts.