AUBURN — As a first-year starter, senior goaltender Aiden Tardif was a relative unknown for Auburn boys lacrosse entering the season.
Steady improvement and a stellar outing in the Maroons' regular season finale has Tardif looking like an experienced veteran.
Tardif came up with nine saves to guide Auburn to a 7-3 win over Ithaca Tuesday at Holland Stadium, with three goals against serving as a new season low for the Maroons.
The biggest save of the game came around three minutes into the second half with Auburn protecting a 4-2 lead and the Lil Red on a man advantage. Ithaca held possession and set up a clear look from about 15 yards away, but Tardif swallowed up the shot with the basket of his stick.
The Maroons scored their fifth goal less than a minute after the penalty expired.
"Aiden did not play last year, so we saw a maturation process throughout the season," Auburn coach Matt Smith said. "He got more comfortable in the cage. He had a tough game against Jamesville-DeWitt, but Aiden's been resilient. I think that's the best word to describe him this year. He bent but he didn't break and he's given us what we've needed."
Lucas Hogan was Auburn's top offensive threat, finishing with three goals, while Nick Schattinger scored a pair. Greg Walsh (assist) and Joey Leonti rounded out the scoring.
In the first half, both defenses held vice grips on the offenses as physicality ruled. Auburn, playing in a zone defense, kept Ithaca to the perimeter most of the time and leaned on timely saves from Tardif. At times, the Lil Red had the look of a team trying to drain the clock, not one that was in a dogfight.
"We were hoping that they would grow impatient," Smith said. "We did a nice job with our zone defense. We wanted them to start forcing their shots and that's exactly what they did. We applied good pressure and at the same time we protected the paint. Our whole goal was to slow the game down. We didn't like our matchups with their middies and our middles, so we played a slowed down game — control the tempo and control the X, and then be methodical on offense. The players did a great job adhering to the gameplan."
The doors blew open in the final minute of the first half. Hogan buried a shot with 26 seconds left before halftime, though Ithaca answered 18 seconds later, ensuring that Auburn would go into halftime with a 3-2 lead.
Hogan scored again, his third, less than two minutes into the second half. Then came Tardif's big save with Ithaca on the power play, and Auburn's fifth goal followed that on a score from Leonti.
The Maroons scored once more in the third quarter on a wicked shot by Walsh and again in the fourth quarter when Schattinger converted a pass by Walsh to go up 7-2.
Ithaca scored its third and final goal with 2:55 to go with the game effectively out of reach.
With the win, Auburn concludes the regular season with a 9-7 record and will now look ahead to the Section III, Class B tournament. The Maroons should have a favorable seed, and Smith is even more encouraged after Auburn was able to outslug Ithaca.
"After today I feel much better than I did yesterday," Smith said. "It's the second season. This is what we work for in the offseason. There is no tomorrow in the second season, so we're looking forward to finding out who we're playing and doing our best to capture a section championship."