Don Zimmerman knows his UMBC men’s lacrosse team isn’t going to enjoy too many laughers: those easy victories where a coach gets to empty his bench in the fourth quarter.
Even on their current four-game winning streak, the Retrievers (6-5, 3-1 America East Conference) have outscored opponents by only eight goals. Two wins during the streak have been one-goal victories; another was a two-goal win.
So Zimmerman was pleased Saturday when his team, which had successful clears on only 17 of 26 opportunities and committed 25 turnovers, managed to win despite not playing its best game.
Enough big plays were made by players like Scott Jones (three goals, two assists and the game-winner with 41 ticks on the clock) and Brian McCullough (11 saves, despite making two costly errors when clearing the ball that led to goals).
And McCullough and his defense haven’t allowed double-digit goals to be scored since a 16-5 thrashing at the hands of Stony Brook on April 1, the team’s lone blemish since mid-March.
In the last month and a half, UMBC has, more often than not, found a way to win.
“I think this team has character,” Zimmerman said. “They're proving that when the game’s on the line, they have what it takes to step up, and reach down and get the job done.”
Defense has played a big part in the Retrievers’ resurgence, as defensemen are “not giving up real quality shots,” Zimmerman said.
But on a team that has little margin for error, it’s disheartening to review its statistics in possession categories.
The Retrievers are 44th out of 60 teams in Division I in offensive turnovers, committing 17.6 per game. They’re 41st in face-off win percentage (.460).
Though the Retrievers had 25 turnovers Saturday, they have slowly improved their success rate on face-offs. Joseph Impallaria won 12 of 17 face-offs (70.5 percent) and picked up six ground balls against Vermont. In recent weeks, freshman Phil Poe had enjoyed some success on face-offs, too, though he won only 1 of 4 Saturday.
Impallaria said winning those face-offs, especially when the Retrievers have occasionally struggled to finish offensive series, is especially important on a team that cannot afford to give away possessions.
“It’s key. [If] you don’t come up with the face-offs, it’s going to be a struggle for the rest of the game,” Impallaria said. “It’s hand-in-hand with the ground balls. I just got every ground ball I could possibly get, and my wings as well [did a good job].”
As for UMBC’s trouble clearing the ball, Zimmerman said that would be addressed in practice.
"We'll probably, on Monday, devote an entire practice to clearing,” Zimmerman said. “Getting up and down the field ... but also going over every one of our clears.
“They [Vermont] rode well and they hustled and it presented some problems. What we need to do in practice is emulate that type of ride and give our guys an opportunity to clear the ball against more pressure.”
That especially means McCullough, who Zimmerman said tends to bend, but not break.
“A lot of goalies, they give two goals up in their clearing game, they all of a sudden go into a funk, and you might lose them for the rest of the game,” Zimmerman said. “Brian didn’t do that, and he hung tough and then at the end he bounced back and made some key saves. ... [There’s] a lot of pressure when you play that position.”
Quote of the Week
"We're banged up. We had to go pretty deep into the bench to play this game. ... Conor Finch, great example. The kid played minutes this season and he comes in and gets two goals right off the bat. That's what you're looking for—you're looking for guys who, when they have the opportunity, step up, take advantage of it, and get the job done."—UMBC coach Don Zimmerman, after little-used midfielder Conor Finch scored two goals in a Saturday.
Line of the Week
Three goals (including game-winner) and two assists—UMBC lacrosse attackman Scott Jones, who took over the team lead in scoring this season (28 total points) and has been an offensive force since for the Retrievers.
"Check out the new Gritty Awards at bit.ly/g6FTjv Winners announced at #UMBC Varsity Awards Banquet. Voting goes thru May 5!" —@UMBCAthletics, announcing new awards the athletic department will be presenting at its annual awards banquet.
For the Record
Both men's and women's UMBC lacrosse teams clinched a spot in the America East Conference Tournament with 9-8 wins on their Senior Days. The women clinched a tournament spot by beating Binghamton on April 17. The men clinched their spot April 23 by .
Player to Watch
UMBC men's lacrosse midfielder Jamie Kimbles, whose nine goals and eight assists have quietly stabilized the Retriever midfield. He had two goals and an assist in the team's 9-8 win over Vermont.
Game to Watch
Desperately in need of a series win, the UMBC softball team (20-21, 5-10 America East Conference) plays its final home series of the year versus Hartford, beginning with a doubleheader April 30 at 1 p.m. and concluding with game three on May 1 at noon.