The playoffs came a week early for the Lehigh men’s lacrosse team.
The Mountain Hawks will take on Bucknell University at home Friday at 7 p.m. in a must-win regular season finale. There are only two scenarios from the outcome of this matchup: win and advance to the Patriot League Tournament or lose and go home.
Both Bucknell (5-7, 3-4 Patriot) and Lehigh (6-6, 3-4 Patriot) are vying for the No. 6 seed in the tournament, and the winner will travel to either Holy Cross, Boston University or Loyola University on Tuesday for the Patriot League Quarterfinals.
“The game will be a bloodbath,” sophomore defenseman Eddie Bouhall said. “It’s going to come down to who wants it more and who leaves it all on the field. We need to come together and be able to play as one, leaving everything we have on the field for the full 60 minutes.”
Lehigh has lost three straight games to Bucknell over the last two years and is looking to end that streak with this game.
“We would consider Bucknell a rival,” Bouhall said. “Considering that they took something away from us last year, we are all very excited to get this one back.”
That “something” Bucknell took away from Lehigh last year was a chance to host the Patriot League Quarterfinals. With the Bison victory, Lehigh dropped to No. 5 seed and lost to Army in the ensuing game.
Coach Kevin Cassese said the team will need to rely on the work it’s been putting in all year.
“Our team trains for 132 days in an academic calendar year, and only 13 of those days are game days,” Cassese said. “One hundred and twenty-nine days of training equals 129 days of preparation in my book, and our players just need to fall back on their training.”
Whatever the importance of this one game in the larger scheme of their season, the team isn’t changing the way that it prepares and practices in the days leading up to the opening faceoff. Instead, the team is relying on its preparation and mentality to find success.
“If we can carry everything we prepared for practice this week to Friday’s game, then the outcome will be successful for us,” Bouhall said.
The game is also Lehigh’s senior night, and Cassese is expecting key performances from the seniors playing on Banko Field for the final time and fighting to avoid ending their final season as Mountain Hawks early.
“Hopefully, we are a hungry team this week,” Cassese said. “This is a ‘do-or-die’ game, so if we aren’t hungry now, we don’t deserve to be a playoff team.”
Senior attacker Matt Raposo ranks third on the team in points with 14 goals and 19 assists for the season. Raposo and sophomore attackmen Tristan Rai (22 goals, 21 assists) and Andrew Pettit (31 goals, 11 assists) have been successful as an attack unit this season, and they’ll need to continue that trend to beat Bucknell goalie Christian Klipstein.
Bucknell’s Connor O’Hara has 30 goals on the season, and Bouhall said it will be key for the Lehigh defense to shut down the Bucknell attack while keeping up defensive intensity.
Freshman attackman Ryan Klose said winning the physical battle and the battle for ground balls will be a focus for Lehigh.
“It’s going to be a tight game,” Klose said. “Making sure that we outwork Bucknell in every spot on the field for the entire game will give us the best chance to win. Our mentality is like that of the playoffs. We know this could be the last game of the season, and no one is ready for it to be over.”
Bouhall said the team’s work in the offseason and throughout the season has left it with a chip on its shoulder and that will help it find success on Friday night.