Thanks to Alexander Jimenez of John I Leonard High School for sending me his pictures last night!
Last night I faced a tough choice of which game to cover, the traditional battle of powers between Saint Andrew’s and Benjamin up north or the John I Leonard home tilt versus new program Olympic Heights. Readers might ponder why that would even be a choice for me but that would be wrong.
SA and Benjamin play every year and all the games have their excitement, but the only story really left in their nascent rivalry is when will the Bucs get their first win as an FHSAA varsity team against the Scots. Hard to believe it’s been so long since I sat in the stands at the Dolphin’s stadium when the first Orange Bowl Classic was held, with their matchup finishing off the day of lacrosse that included other high school games (Jupiter vs Pine Crest if memory serves), youth clashes and a Male/Female Doubleheader of Army/Michigan and UF/Syracuse.
Can’t forget that day, my first year writing and in one day I got to interview Gary Gait, Joe Alberici, Garrett Thul and John Paul, as well as seeing my first Golden Bear lacrosse sighting.
It was a 4-4 game at the half but then SA played a sublime 3rd quarter with a 9-1 run and Benjamin has been looking to return the favor ever since.
But in my mind the rematch last night was the secondary story of the night. I was scheduled to see John I Leonard play at Coral Springs HS but that one was called off due to the type of communication issue that shouldn’t happen. Readers over the past few years know I have a soft spot in my coverage for both JIL and Immokalee and you can add Olympic Heights to the list now.
The path to the reinstating of lacrosse at OH was bumpy . . . heck, mine-laden at times. But a few brave souls just wanted to give their kids a chance to play the sport before they graduated, without having to transfer to another school. And after a few stops and starts they managed to put together a schedule, hire a coach, and get some players to come out to give the sport a shot.
But a funny thing happened . . . the JIL-OH game was moved up an hour and that made my day in a funny way . . .
I got to see TWO second halves only . . . and TWO Overtimes!
And because I missed the first half of both games it allowed me to just enjoy the games as any other fan would . . . or at least those who understand #EnjoyTheGameNotTheBlame . . .
In a way I lived the scene in Field of Dreams when the Archie Graham character steps off the field and turns back into Burt Lancaster last night . . . from one end of the spectrum to another.
Two teams in my Top 6 and two teams that are kind of the opposite of that.
The first game was, as expected, played with a lot of turnovers, but so was the second one
The first game was tight all the way, with at most a 3-goal lead that lasted maybe 2 minutes, but the second one was too, without the 3-goal lead unless I missed that in the 3-3 first half
The first game was won by the team that rallied in the 4th quarter from a deficit, but so was the second one. Combined, the 4 teams scored FIVE goals in the last 70 seconds of regulation after they all struggled to find the net all game long
And both games were won in OT by the visiting squad. But for one team it was like win #700 or so in their long and storied history . . . for the other it was the 1st win of the first season of their renaissance.
And if the time hadn’t been moved, I would have only gotten to the first one . . . and that would have been the right choice after all . . .
Olympic Heights Defeats John I Leonard 9-8 in OT
You’d never think this game would be more emotional after the game, but it was true. OH’s elation at their first win, giving Bryan Lejeune and his kids a taste of the future, while JIL’s coaching staff and kids were unable to hide their despair.
And for JIL I was thrilled to see that.
Most of my readers know how I chronicled their program history throughout last season and the year before that. After the 2017 season, in my Final Top 25 article, I called out the JIL Administration with a simple request . . . show you cared about the program or shut it down.
That was the program’s record going into 2018.
But they hired the right man in Jeffrey Peters to take on the task and he found young assistants eager to give back too, and after their first win last year they managed to finish at .500 and gave their kids a taste of what hard work and team spirit is about. They carried that over to this season and are right around .500 this year, even playing in a district with two Top 25 teams in Oxbridge and King’s Academy.
And along the way something great happened, their expectations of themselves rose too. Those who know the makeup of the players vis-à-vis the other lacrosse programs in the area know that this isn’t an assumption, but a learned skill. One that they will hopefully keep learning.
A program that goes 0-88 is not likely to feel down after a loss . . . a team yearning for a winning record does. And that was what came through for them last night.
They cared, really cared, that they lost. That’s true self-respect.
They had held a 7-4 lead in the 4th quarter, only to have OH score 4 straight goals, taking the lead with about 35 seconds left, only to tie it up with 6 seconds to go. But after taking a penalty OH was able to fire home the OT winner to take the game.
After the game I asked Coach Peters if I could say a couple of words to the kids and he graciously allowed me to. It took all I had not to show tears of my own while talking to them.
I reminded them of what I wrote at 0-88. Only a few of them knew that. I talked to them about being thankful they had a coaching staff that cared and how important the life lessons they were learning would carry on through life.
But the tough part for me was when I said how proud of them I was. They’re not playing for a state title, they know that. They’re not playing for college scholarships. They’re playing because they WANTED to play the sport.
And WIN GAMES.
Sometimes that’s all it takes to make a difference.
We should all be proud of how far they’ve come the last two seasons.
And we should be proud of the team on the other side, who also wouldn’t take NO for an answer, and now they know what it feels like to put one in the win column.
All of these kids are there because they caught the lacrosse fever, for the right reason.
And for one game last night they held this lacrosse community in their hands.
Saint Andrew’s Defeats Benjamin 6-5 in 2 OT’s
Heading east on 10th Avenue, then north on I-95, I got to the game just as the second quarter was coming to an end. 3-3 at the half. A flashback to the game Wells and I and Jake Reed called online in 2015. That game was 4-2 at the half. Low scoring first halves in this rivalry usually are followed by a much larger offensive outburst in the second but that didn’t happen last night.
Both goalies came up big, albeit a lot of shots placed favorably for the goalie also were prevalent.
There was a much larger crowd in this one, but for this rivalry it was actually more sparse than normal and I guess that the positioning of so late in the schedule this season accounted for part of that. In year’s past this one tended to be played in the 1st third of the season.
The game itself really did not mean anything except for bragging rights, confidence and polling position . . . but those are important to both fan bases . . . and to poll providers.
The fact is that these two teams (if my understanding of how the brackets are set this year) could only meet in the state title finals in a rematch and that one counts a lot more.
Having attended almost all of these games I can certainly postulate this one will hurt the Bucs the most. A two-goal last minute lead with a couple of chances to run out the clock, and a 1-minute man up in the first OT were all squandered, and the Scots came away with what felt almost anticlimactic at the end.
I was sitting in the stands this time, and after saying hi to my original fans (they kiddingly used to call themselves my groupies and included the winner of the coveted Vichyssoise Contest crown) I sat down with the ‘in-crowd’ of referees and scouting coaches.
That meant I got to hear an interesting collection of sub-rosa critiques of the action on the field, of all things happening on the field. It’s like what I remembered from 1972, when PBS in New York was handling the Fischer-Spassky Chess Championship. The only thing missing was the sound of the teletype ringing to announce the next move.
Anyone under 40 or so will have to look up teletype themselves. Or order Vichyssoise in a restaurant . . . trust me, it’s delicious.
Benjamin took an early 3rd quarter lead and found another one and finally their fans felt they were going to get that coveted win. But the ghosts of Don Jones Field made their annual appearance and morphed into Michael Lizzio, and his two last minute goals sent the game to OT; then it almost seemed just a matter of time for the Sisyphean rewind to kick in.
And Adams to Roth felt like a kick in the stomach, just inches below the summit.
Well, May is just a month away. Or next April, whichever comes first.
But to this disinterested party, the sight of two OT games in one night was a night I rarely have experienced.
And four more stories to tell. With the two more important ones in the bag before the second game even kicked in.
The Creator’s Game . . . Thank him in your prayers tonight. He granted us nights like last night.