The Toll Gate lacrosse team knew that the only chance it had to win its division was to beat Division III-South leading Narragansett on Tuesday.
But the Mariners had no intention of simply giving up first place.
Backed by two goals in the opening minutes, Narragansett never trailed and broke open a 4-3 game with two goals in the third quarter to knock off the Titans 6-3 on a rain-soaked afternoon.
The loss dropped Toll Gate to 8-3, while the Mariners clinched D-III-South by improving to 11-1. The Titans still have the third-best record in all of D-III, and can wrap up the No. 3 seed in the playoffs with one win in their final two games.
Yet, after putting a huge emphasis on beating Narragansett, Toll Gate was left feeling a little empty after coming up short.
“It was disappointing,” Toll Gate head coach Mike Vadney said. “It was definitely disappointing.”
The Titans had circled Tuesday’s game on their calendar early in the season. They lost to Narragansett 4-3 in their first league game, back on April 4, and since then they knew that the road to a regular season division title would come down to knocking off the Mariners when the teams met again.
Toll Gate had gone 8-1 since losing that first game to Narragansett – with its only loss coming to undefeated Smithfield – and it was excited for another chance to beat one of the top teams.
The Mariners curbed that excitement quickly.
Off the opening draw of the game, Narragansett advanced the ball into Toll Gate’s zone, and Zachary Humulock made a move on the right side to get some space before rocketing a shot past Titans’ goalie Josh Giarrantano.
On the ensuing draw, Narragansett again came away with the ball. After a long Mariners possession, Giarrantano made a save but turned the ball over while throwing it to the other side of the field. The Mariners grabbed possession, came right back into Toll Gate’s zone and scored again when Matthew McGreen fired a low shot into the goal.
Not even two minutes into the game, it was already 2-0 Narragansett.
“Tough with two goals down off the start, just to get a roll going,” Vadney said. “I think their offense kind of threw our defense off. Just a lot of motion, and we haven’t seen that much. The only other club that really runs a good motion offense is Smithfield.”
The score ballooned to 3-0 a few minutes later, as McGreen scored his second goal of the game after he ran around the right side of the net and tossed it in.
Toll Gate finally got on the board with time winding down in the first, as Max Lupovitz threw a pass from right to left across the face of the goal onto the stick of Kyle Ellis, who beat Narragansett goalie Mitchell Kennedy to make the score 3-1 after one quarter.
In the second, after Giarrantano made several nice saves to keep Narragansett out of the goal, the Titans got within one when Kevin Vittum found a cutting Connor Bailey wide open in front of the net. Bailey scored, and suddenly it was 3-2.
But just 10 seconds later, Narragansett regained its two-goal lead when Giarrantano tried to challenge Robert Pratt on the right side, and Pratt threw it around him for the score.
Toll Gate opened the third with a goal from Vittum to make the score 4-3, and it looked to be gaining momentum. But with 3:58 left, Pratt scored for the Mariners, and 18 seconds later McGreen scored his third of the game to push the lead to 6-3.
The Titans had no answer for the rest of the quarter, barely even moving the ball into Narragansett’s end.
“Offensively, you can’t blame everything on field conditions, but we just didn’t get into our rhythm, and it’s tough,” Vadney said. “Going into this game I was telling these guys, ‘This is important, we’ve got to have this game.’ Unfortunately, today it didn’t go our way.”
In the fourth quarter, Toll Gate got a golden opportunity. Two Narragansett players were whistled for unnecessary roughness penalties, giving the Titans four minutes on the man-advantage.
Because the penalties were locked, Toll Gate could have scored and the players would have had to remain in the box. Instead, though, Narragansett buckled down.
Ellis got a shot off in the first minute of the penalty time, and Anthony Zelano took one soon after, but the Titans really struggled to get anything going.
Before long, the four minutes had gone by without Toll Gate scoring at all.
“We had four minutes locked in where we could have just unloaded,” Vadney said. “Once that happened…I can’t even put thoughts on it.”
That being said, Narragansett’s defense had as much to do with Toll Gate’s offensive struggles as the Titans themselves did. Led by Connor Timpson, Matthew Storti and Patrick Degnan, as well as Kennedy in net, the Mariners were stingy all night.
“They’re a good defensive team, and I give coach [Mark] Chafee a lot of credit,” Vadney said. “He’s definitely defensive-minded, and we just couldn’t get our shots. Their goaltender played a hell of game.”
From there on out, the Mariners controlled play. Toll Gate was whistled for two penalties, hurting their chances of getting back in the game, and the clock ticked down to zero without the Titans finding the net for the last 21:24 of playing time.
“Hopefully we’ll just use this as a learning experience and try to go from there,” Vadney said.
Toll Gate was scheduled to host 6-5 Coventry on Wednesday before finishing the season at 1-11 Westerly on Friday.
The playoffs are set to begin next Thursday, May 24.