MILFORD — Sometimes the ball needs a little help to bounce your way.
With his team tied late in a DIAA boys’ lacrosse state tournament opening-round game versus No. 6 Milford Wednesday night, Dover senior Dylan Handel provided that assistance.
Handel bounced the game-winning shot by Buccaneers keeper Clay Stevenson with 1:51 to play and the No. 11 Senators held on to win, 8-7, and advanced to Saturday’s quarterfinals matchup with rival Caesar Rodney.
That game will be played at noon on the Riders’ home field.
“We’re both very physical teams, Milford has a phenomenal program and coach who has done a great job, so we were expecting this kind of game,” said first-year Dover coach Michael Denman. “Overall it comes down to the groundballs, staying out of the penalty box and executing the offense. This is a huge accomplishment.”
After missing the state tourney a year ago, it was the first tournament victory for the Senators (11-5) since 2013.
Early in the contest it looked like it might be a big night for Milford, as the Henlopen Conference Southern Division champion Buccaneers (15-3) stormed out to a 3-0 lead in the opening quarter.
Senior Matt Viramontes found the net with a goal just 40 seconds into the match and classmate Ring Lardner scored twice more for Milford in the first.
The Senators battled back in the second, however, and went into halftime trailing just 4-3.
Junior Devaughn Williams got Dover on the board half a minute into the second quarter and seven minutes later Handel cut the Bucs’ lead down to 3-2.
Dallas Rhodes scored with 2:22 remaining in the half to put Milford back on top by a pair of scores but Handel netted his second goal with a minute to play to cut the deficit back to one.
“After the first quarter I told them we have to keep fighting and grinding, play the game we know how to play,” Denman said. “And that’s what they did.”
Following Austin Dooley-Rosas’ tying goal 30 seconds into the third quarter, Dover took its first lead of the contest when junior Connor Ashoka Garrett fired a shot through traffic that Stevenson lost track of until it was by him. Garrett added another score minutes later and pushed the Senators’ lead to 6-4 with just less than eight minutes to play in the third.
Rhodes and Viramontes, however, grabbed some momentum back for Milford with a goal each and the teams went into the final period tied at 6-6.
Playing in his last game as a Buccaneer, senior Zach Heesh broke the tie with 9:40 to play but a goal by Dover freshman William Niebrzydowski re-knotted the game less than a minute later. There they stayed until Handel’s winner.
“It just wasn’t our night,” Milford coach Blake Faulkner said. “But, as disappointing as this is, we’re making strides for Milford lacrosse. Overall this has been a great season. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Milford Chronicle sports editor Jeff Mitchell can be reached at 422-1200 or email@example.com.