Hens rise to opportunity, advance to postseason
The Blue Hens men’s lacrosse team knew the stakes heading into Friday night’s conference matchup against Drexel: win, and you’re in. Delaware rose to the occasion and trounced the Dragons 17-8 to earn their first CAA tournament bid since 2014.
Delaware (6-7, 3-2 CAA) burst out of the gates hot, scoring seven of the first nine goals and jumping out to a 7-2 lead. Sophomore attackman Charlie Kitchen was especially aggressive, accounting for four of his five goals within the first 26 minutes of action. As the game wore on, an uneasiness permeated throughout Tubby Raymond Stadium; Drexel lessened the gap and closed the margin to 8-5 with eight minutes and fifteen seconds left in the third.
The Hens answered by ripping off seven of their own unanswered goals to bust the game open to a 15-5 lead. Senior Captain Will Hirschmann kicked off the run with an unassisted goal with five minutes and forty-five seconds left in the third, and the onslaught continued until Sophomore attackman Joe Eisele’s third goal ripped through the back of the net with twelve minutes and forty-nine left in the fourth. Drexel and Delaware traded trash-time goals throughout the rest of the fourth, with the final score favoring Delaware 17-8.
“We just wanted to bring a sense of urgency. We wanted to embrace the moment,” Hirschmann said. “We knew that this was a playoff game for us, and we kind of wanted to bring that mentality with us and just have a sense of urgency. We wanted to fight for extra lacrosse, for an extra week.”
Hirschmann ended a stellar season with an exclamation point, scoring seven goals and an assist. Hirschmann has a chance to match his previous career goal total in one season. He has scored 25 times this year, only three fewer than the 28 career goals he entered the season with. As an integral cog of the offense, Hirschmann looks to continue his impressive scoring run in throughout the CAA playoffs.
Kitchen also continued his stellar sophomore campaign, adding five goals to his team-high tally of 35 on the season. Eisele contributed with a hat trick — two of his three goals coming early in the fourth to bury the Dragons.
All phases of the game combined for a signature win in the regular season finale. The offense combined for 17 goals, a season high. Defensively, the Hens allowed eight goals, tied for second fewest on the season.
“Our guys did a really nice job preparing all week, they listened, they understood what we needed to do to change from last week’s game,” Head Coach Ben DeLuca said. “We had a great week of practice that culminated in a superior effort tonight. We’re going to hope to continue that momentum moving forward.”
The Blue Hens rattled off three straight wins to start the season, then dropped five straight to out-of-conference opponents. The team snapped their losing streak to start CAA play with a win against Fairfield, and finished their schedule with a 3-2 conference run. Despite an up-and-down season, the Hens will be making good on a goal they set at the beginning of their season: the postseason.
“It’s a goal that these guys set for the program at the beginning of the season; it was one that we stayed focused on throughout the year,” DeLuca said. “We had our ups and downs and bumps in the road, particularly in the non-conference schedule, and once the conference schedule came around, our guys did a really good job of refocusing on the task at hand and competing for a chance to extend our season.”
In DeLuca’s first year as head coach, the team improved from 0-5 to 3-2 in the conference. With Towson’s win over Fairfield on Saturday, the playoffs are set. Delaware plays Towson on Thursday, May 3 in Amherst, Mass., for their first taste of playoff lacrosse in four years.