In a season of struggles and misfortune, the Stags finally caught a long-awaited break.

A shot from UMass midfielder Evan Blum hit the crossbar with three seconds remaining in regulation, securing a 10-9 victory for the Stags and providing relief for a team that has struggled for most of the season.

“This game is a big game for us,” said Head Coach Ted Spencer, who played at UMass. “We need to take these [final games to set the foundation for next year, and if nothing else give these guys some learning experience.”

The win eased the pain of a disappointing 13-4 loss to ECAC rival Loyola that occurred just two days before.

The Stags appeared sluggish out of the gate, as the Minutemen jumped to an early 2-0 lead in the first quarter.

A goal from UMass midfielder Zach Rodgers early in the second quarter extended the Minutemen’s lead to 3-1 and the game, in many respects, appeared like a similar script for the Stags.

The turning point came on an extra man offense opportunity for the Stags. Sophomore attackman Dan Holub scored his fifth goal of the season with 1:33 remaining in the half, providing the Stags with much needed momentum.

Fairfield made a strong statement after halftime, scoring five consecutive goals in a span of seven minutes, as well as holding the Minutemen scoreless.

A flurry of offense in the fourth quarter ended with the Stags holding off a late UMass rally and two late goals from leading-scorer Tim Balise.

In the end, it was freshmen who provided the offense needed to secure the victory and snap an eight-game losing streak, the second longest stretch without a victory since the team’s first varsity season in 1993.

Todd Baxter ’11 scored his sixth goal of the season and second of the game on a pass from Chris Ajemian ’09. The goal gave the Stags a 9-7 advantage with 5:54 to play in regulation.

“[Baxter] has shown consistent play against top teams,” said Spencer. “He is playing at a level right now that is equivalent to a Mike Bocklet [’07]. I wish we had recognized him sooner.”

Following two goals from Balise to pull UMass to within one goal with 1:41 to play, another freshman came of age.

Midfielder Ryan Mulford ’11 scored with 36 seconds remaining in regulation, breaking the tie and giving Fairfield its first fourth quarter lead since the game against Rutgers, the third game of the season.

“We just have to be confident and keep working,” said Spencer. “We are running new offensive sets and it is all new stuff. In fairness to the kids, it is new. It is going to take some time.”

“We have to build with the nucleus of this group,” said Spencer.

Baxter and Mulford were not the lone offensive contributors. Nick Lattimore ’08 scored two goals, his first of the season, and two assists.

As for the team’s veterans, Ajemian finished with a goal and an assist, and senior midfielder Dan Boudreau ’08 also added a goal.

Spencer pointed to the strides made by the new offensive unit as the key to the team’s success down the stretch.

“We keep scoring more goals. We’ve made progress. Not our best, but we have made improvement from our real downslide,” said Spencer.

However, the offense was far from the only factor in the team’s most recent win.

Defensively, the Stags held UMass to 17 shots on goal, while forcing 14 turnovers. In addition, Spencer made the decision to pull starting goalkeeper Joe Marra ’11 following Saturday’s lopsided loss to Loyola on Saturday.

Instead, Spencer turned to Jeff Cilente ’09, who had started two games earlier this season for Fairfield.

Cilente finished the game with eight saves and recorded the first win of his Fairfield career.

The Stags now look to build upon the convincing victory in the team’s final game against St. John’s. The road game will be played this Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m.

The team is hopeful that recent strides on offense is a sign of things to come.

“I am proud of the kids,” said Spencer. “They have been through a lot this year.”

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