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RALEIGH — “Inaugural” is a descriptive word used in athletics to help new programs soften their overmatched initial season and one-sided losses. Well, Barton College’s men’s lacrosse team skipped past inaugural to promising.
The Bulldogs nearly matched the sunny sky above them at their impromptu “home” site before falling to Lincoln Memorial University 14-13 in a nonconference game Saturday at Cardinal Gibbons High.
“Extremely,” was the word Barton coach Warren Shumate used when asked if was pleased.
Shumate was hired in June 2017 to piece together the NCAA Division II program. He had previously served as head coach at NCAA Div. III Gordon College in Wenham, Mass.
“We felt good about the guys we brought in,” Shumate said. “We’re a first-year team that is inexperienced in college classes, but some of these kids played on state championship (high school) teams or played for other programs on a good level. We knew we would be competitive, we just didn’t know exactly how we would fall out today.”
The new guys ranged from freshman Mason Chaney, who led the Bulldogs with six goals, and junior college transfer Bodin Nichols, who goes down in history for scoring the program’s first goal.
The only hitch was Barton’s new multi-purpose turf stadium wasn’t ready for use, but that didn’t prevent 275 enthusiastic fans from showing up.
“We loved the crowd,” Shumate said. “We were so glad to see so many people from Wilson come out and support us. We’re looking forward to playing (on Feb. 23 at home) and getting a bigger crowd.”
Barton’s next two games are on the road before the Bulldogs return for for back-to-back matches at the new stadium. The rescheduled home opener is Feb. 23 against Coker College followed by Barton’s Carolinas Conference debut Feb. 26 against Belmont Abbey College.
As for promising starts, Nichols’ historic goal epitomized a fast start, providing the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead just 25 seconds into the match.
“I never thought about scoring the first goal,” said Nichols, whose journey to Barton began from his hometown of Brainerd, Minn. — recognizable in popular culture for the Paul Bunyon statue in the movie “Fargo” — by way of Delaware Tech Junior College. “I’m blessed and glad to be here.”
Lincoln Memorial quickly assumed a 2-1 lead, but neither team was able to pull away. Barton led 4-3 after the first quarter and 6-5 at halftime and the score was 10-10 after three periods.
Lincoln Memorial’s experience as a fifth-year program appeared to make a difference in the first three minutes of the fourth when the Railsplitters scored back-to-back goals. Barton was suddenly down 12-10, but the Bulldogs weren’t finished.
Chaney trimmed the deficit to 12-11 with 7:50 left in the match and then bang-bang goals from sophomore Jake Soroko with 5:49 to play and freshman Hunter Huxoli 22 seconds later surged the Bulldogs ahead, 13-12.
However, Lincoln Memorial responded with goals from Joe Conklin with 4:36 left and Reggie Golfin with 3:15. Barton got off five shots in the final 2:35 but was unable to connect.
LMU junior Robert Tucker, a returning All-South Atlantic Conference player, led his side with five goals.
Although Chaney tallied six goals, a half-dozen Barton players scored. Soroko and Jake Copio scored twice. Zachary Hodge joined Nichols and Huxoli with a single goal.
“I saw an opportunity here,” said Chaney of committing to a start-up program. “We want to put Barton lacrosse on the map in Wilson.”