Coast Guard lax suffers heart-breaking end to season

New London — Coast Guard Academy coach Ray LaForte wanted to give every one of his lacrosse players a hug on Saturday afternoon.

Anything to try to console the Bears and show his appreciation after a painful season-ending loss.

They came so close to reaching another milestone in the short three-year history of the program.

On the verge of clinching their first trip to the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference tournament, they lost a five-goal lead in the second half and dropped a 16-15 decision to Babson College. The Beavers (8-7, 4-3) earned the fourth seed in next week's conference tourney.

"A tough loss," LaForte said.

The Bears (10-6, 4-3) never trailed until late in the fourth quarter. Babson's Niall Dillon's goal with one minute, 48 seconds left, served as the game-winner.

It was CGA's first home loss this season and fourth defeat by two goals or less.

"It's heart-breaking," sophomore Anthony Wyler said. "We've been here before — nail-biters against top teams like Catholic and Merchant Marine and just can't finish it off."

Something bothered Wyler, who set a program single-game record with eight goals, more than the loss. It was the fact that the Bears couldn't deliver on Senior Day for Dan Fiorvanti and Blaise Curtis who were honored during a pre-game ceremony.

"This one isn't so much about losing," Wyler said. "You can replace games next year. You lose two great guys. Just the memories you share with them. ... We've just followed their lead. To have it end is just not what we were looking for."

The Bears appeared to be in command, scoring first and building a 9-5 halftime lead. They dominated face-offs, with sophomore Colin Cashin winning 13 of 16 in the first two quarters, and controlled possession. Cashin leads the NEWMAC in that department.

Wyler, the best player on the turf Saturday, already was on his way to a brilliant performance, and talented freshman Riley McNulty (three goals, three assists), who finished as the team's leading scorer this season with 39 goals and 23 assists, also was a force.

Things started to unravel in the third quarter after Wyler's fourth goal handed the Bears a 10-5 edge.

Babson seized the momentum by taking advantage of Coast Guard mistakes, cutting the deficit to 12-10 by the end of third on Axel Brown's man-advantage goal.

"The third quarter got crazy," LaForte said. "In tennis, the unforced error kills someone. The third quarter was just a jumble of unforced errors. ... It came a little unhinged and we have some great players that can help get us back on track and they did that."

In the fourth quarter, Wyler's low laser produced his eighth goal and pushed the Bears in front, 14-13, with 8:34 remaining.

Babson answered with three goals in a two minute, 50-second span. Austin Fabel curled around from the back of the goal and fired home a shot to hand the Beavers their first lead, 15-14, at the 3:33 mark. Then Dillon pumped another shot to extend the gap.

Curtis scored his third goal to cut the gap to one. Then the Bears regained possession, calling timeout with 26 seconds remaining. But Wyler misfired on the game's last attempt.

The Bears made significant strides this season, winning a program-best four NEWMAC games and playing a competitive brand of lacrosse. Last year, they lost to Babson by a 21-6 margin.

The roster is loaded with young talent. LaForte started eight sophomores and two freshmen on Saturday. They return 33 players next spring.

A lack of qualify depth hurt at times this season, especially on Saturday on a warm spring day. LaForte expects to upgrade the roster and toughen the schedule next season.

"We're blessed with some tremendous, tremendous talented kids here," LaForte said. "I'm really proud of everything and every piece of effort that these kids are putting toward each other. It's a really good group."

g.keefe@theday.com

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