Winning streak ends at six
In a battle of two nationally ranked North Coast Athletic Conference foes, No. 15 Wittenberg improved to 10-0 on the season by outscoring the ninth-ranked Big Red, 6-3 in the second half, en route to a 9-8 win over Denison from Deeds Field-Piper Stadium. The loss snapped a six-game winning streak for the Big Red which dated back to March 16.
DU came out of the gates as the aggressor and led 3-2 after the first quarter after Zach Walsh converted a man-up opportunity with 1:03 left in the quarter off a pass from Cory Couture. Denison's positive momentum continued into the second quarter when senior Tanner Smith fired in his 12th goal of the season just over a minute into the quarter. Two minutes later, Spencer Riehl would force a turnover on Wittenberg's Ryan Spain and after the clear, Couture hit Colin Molloy for his first goal of the game and his 16th of the season.
With the Big Red in front 5-2, Wittenberg got a much-needed goal from Brady Christensen with 7:30 left in the quarter. Despite 11 combined shots over the final 7:30 of the first half, neither team could get on the scoreboard which sent DU into the intermission with a 5-3 lead.
The third quarter is where the tide turned in favor of the visiting Tigers as Wittenberg scored two goals to tie the score at 5-5. With 1:34 remaining in the third, Davis Lukens sent a rocket past Tiger goalie Mark DeOliveira which gave the lead back to DU. That Big Red lead lasted exactly 18 seconds as Wittenberg won the ensuing face-off and Christensen scored in transition off a feed from Danny Johnson. That quick-strike goal by Wittenberg would prove to be the play of the game as it fueled one more third quarter goal, this time from George Gion with only 17 seconds left.
Now trailing 7-6 entering the fourth quarter DU failed to secure the face-off and Wittenberg patiently worked the ball around until Chris Gipson scored his second goal of the game after taking a pass from Matt Lord at the 13:30 mark.
Denison, who had their fair share of scoring opportunities, were turned away 18 times by DeOliveira. Emmett Jones was frustrated most by the Tiger goalie as five of his six shot attempts on the day resulted in DeOliveira saves. After two nifty stops on Jones, DU did manage to slip one by with 8:06 remaining when Chapin Speidel made a nice pass into the interior where Kyle Brown converted his second goal of the game, getting DU back to within one goal at 8-7.
Over the next four minutes, the Big Red would put two shots on goal but the Tigers would strike again as Gipson completed his hat trick at the 3:41 mark of the fourth quarter.
With the crucial face-off looming, Wittenberg's Charles Harreys would secure the ground ball but quickly turn the ball over to DU. The Denison offense went to work and after three shots were stymied by DeOliveira, Smith finally slipped one into the right side of the goal after an impressive shoulder fake got him free of his defender.
That cut the deficit to one with exactly one minute to play but once again, it was Harreys who locked up the ground ball off the face-off and this time he did not turn the ball over. The Tigers quickly got the ball into their offensive third and in an effort to force a turnover, the Big Red were penalized, thus giving Wittenberg a man-up advantage for the remaining 44 seconds of regulation. Finally, with four seconds left, Reihl checked the ball away from the Tigers but there was not enough time to clear the ball and get a shot attempt before time expired.
Denison outshot Wittenberg 37-32 but the Tigers held a 17-14 advantage in that department in the second half. Big Red goalie Nick Petracca posted 10 saves for Denison while DeOliveira notched 18 saves which was one shy of his career-high. The face-off numbers were close but the Tigers came through when they needed them most, winning 8-of-11 in the second half.
There were six penalties in the game and Walsh's first quarter goal was the only extra-man goal of the contest. Smith led DU with two goals, one assist, eight ground balls and three caused turnovers. Brown also scored twice and had two ground balls. Corey Daff did the majority of the face-off work, going 10-for-17.
Wittenberg was paced by Gipson's three goals and Lord's one goal and two assists. In addition to his 18 saves, DeOliveira also posted six ground balls. Elliot Avis was 9-for-17 at the face-off X.
The Tigers improve to 10-0 overall and 3-0 in the NCAC while Denison drops to 8-2 and 3-1 in conference play. Not only did this loss snap Denison's six-game winning streak in 2011. It also marked their first loss at Deeds Field-Piper Stadium since May 2, 2009, a streak spanning 11-straight home wins.
The Big Red will look to rebound next Saturday (April 23) when they travel to Gambier, Ohio for a 12 p.m. contest with Kenyon College.