WILSON, N.C. --- AJ Hems scored a career-best five goals to lead Tusculum University to a 14-8 victory over Barton College in non-conference men's lacrosse action Saturday afternoon.
Hems scored four goals in the first half to help the Pioneers (1-0) to a 6-3 halftime lead. Tusculum then scored three goals in less than a minute at the start of the third quarter, and led by as many as nine goals in the fourth quarter as the Pioneers won their season opener for the first time since their inaugural season of 2014.
Nate Raymond added two goals and an assist and Jordan Daniel had a goal and two assists for Tusculum, which outshot Barton (0-1) by a 43-33 margin. Nine different players scored goals for the Pioneers, including a goal and an assist each from Braden Elam, Kale Lawrence and Andy Michalski.
Hems opened the scoring just 14 seconds into the first quarter for the Pioneers, with Daniel giving Tusculum a 2-0 lead with 8:22 left in the first period. Hems' second goal of the afternoon made it 3-0 Tusculum with 1:57 left in the quarter, and the 3-0 lead carried into the second quarter until the Bulldogs got on the board on a goal from Jake Copio just over a minute into the period. Tusculum answered as Elam scored less than 90 seconds later, and Hems scored twice more to push the Pioneers up 6-1 with 5:08 left in the half. Barton was able to cut the deficit to 6-3 at halftime with two goals in the final three minutes.
The Pioneers broke loose with three goals in the first 1:06 of the third quarter. Lawrence scored with 17 seconds gone, followed by a Raymond tally 43 seconds later. Michalski then won the faceoff and scored on a give-and-go from Elam for a 9-3 Tusculum lead with 13:54 left in the third quarter. Quinn McKitrick pushed the lead to 10-3 with a man-down goal with 8:22 to play in the third, and Hems notched his fifth of the day with 5:58 left in the period as Tusculum took an 11-5 advantage into the final quarter.
Another flurry of goals from the Pioneers saw Sean Dunn score with 10:36 left, Liam Macdonald with 9:31 to play and Raymond with 8:30 to go as the Pioneers went up 14-5. Barton would cut the final margin to 14-8 with three goals in the final five minutes.
Both teams finished with 28 ground balls, but Barton had 22 turnovers to 15 by Tusculum. The Pioneers won 14 faceoffs to 12 for the Bulldogs, led by Michalski who was 11-for-20 at the dot. Tanner Deck led Tusculum with four ground balls, and Dunn had two caused turnovers to go along with three ground balls for the Pioneers. For Barton, Pat Farist was 12-for-25 on faceoffs and led field players with five ground balls.
Ross Geiger finished with four saves on 12 shots on goal for the Pioneers, while Matt Stocks faced 26 shots on goal and had 12 saves for the Bulldogs.
Tusculum will play top-ranked Limestone on the road on Friday, Feb. 14. The Saints, who were the national runner-up in Division II to Merrimack last season, beat Lees-McRae 25-11 in their season opener on Friday.