After returning to the playoffs last season, expectations for the Milford Buccaneers lacrosse program this season were understandably high.
While the Bucs bounced back from a 5-10 mark the season before, their strong 2017 campaign ended with an early first round exit, something they hope to avoid this time around.
The first step toward making it out of the first round was making the postseason. While seedings aren’t set yet, the Bucs already clinched the Henlopen South Division Championship, putting them in the Henlopen Conference title game where the winner receives an automatic bid into the state tournament.
"It's always great to win the Henlopen South and we look at that as something we expect every year we step on the field," said Milford Head Coach Blake Faulkner. "It's a testament to the players and the work they put in each and every day."
Even though they’ve solidified a win and you’re in scenario, the Bucs have certainly done enough during the regular season to earn one of the remaining 12 spots in the tournament if they aren’t able to come away with the overall conference title.
The Buccaneers opened the season winning seven straight games, including wins over Lake Forest, Woodbridge, Delmar, Indian River, Newark and two-straight victories over Sussex Academy.
Milford would go on to drop two games in a row, falling to Delaware Military Academy and Caravel Academy, teams that have gone a combined 21-5 entering this week’s play.
Despite the mid-season hiccup, the Buccaneers bounced back winning four straight over Woodbridge, Polytech, Indian River and Lake Forest.
The win over Lake Forest clinched the division for the Buccaneers, though it wouldn’t be easy.
Milford trailed the Spartans 4-2 after the first period, eventually taking an 8-5 lead into the halftime break. Tied 10-10 heading into the final period, the Buccaneers outscored Lake Forest 3-2 to come away with a hardfought 13-12 victory led by eight combined goals from Alex Herka and Conor Christie.
Powered by strong underclassmen play all season long, the Buccaneers have leaned heavily on underclassmen like Herka and Christie, along with junior Jonathan Gaglione and freshman Matt Hague and Landan Hajek.
Milford’s offense has averaged nearly 13 goals per game this season, third best in the Henlopen Conference.
The Buccaneers have also received strong goalkeeping from experienced senior Shane Gaglione who has held three opponents to four goals or less this season and made 24 big saves in Milford’s division clinching win over Lake Forest.
"I think one of our biggest strength this year is our groth that we have taken since last year," Faulker said. "This team has been able to increase their overall lacrosse IQ and feel for the game and we have a never quit attitude no matter what the circumstances."
The Buccaneers will take on Henlopen North Champion Cape Henlopen for the overall conference title on Friday night at DE Turf Sports Complex starting at 7 p.m.