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1A Top 10 Battle! #2 Benjamin Rallies Late for the 9-8 win over #8 Saint John Paul II!

photos by Seth Austin   I think a lot of eyeballs were raised by my keeping Benjamin at #2 this week after the Ponte Vedra fiasco but then they took down St. Thomas while other schools were losing below them.  There were also probably some shrugs when I started SJP high in the Polls at the beginning of the season and kept them there even in the face of the losses.  Those losses were by 2 to Ponte Vedra, 4 at Jupiter and the early season game at Pine Crest. Last night those questions were answered with a scintillating game played in what is thankfully a growing number of attendees.  Spirited . . . fun . . . down to the wire. SJP is one of the feel good stories this season for me.  It was during the rained-out Stuart event in the fall (Treasure Coast Shootout I believe) when I saw them play and you could tell there was something different there.  In the years I’ve covered the area it was always the road block of Saint Andrew’s that kept some really good SJP teams from making a run.  To put something into perspective, those two schools could easily walk to the other’s for a game if a back gate or two were opened and a few backyards were amenable to the cleats.  But when it came to the results on the scoreboard it has been SA for about 25 years now (Coach Andy Bolger provided me a few years back with the press clipping when the Eagles won one ‘back in the day’).  It is really the Sisyphus situation of Florida lacrosse.     At that event I went up to Andy and asked him about the team, noting to him that he had a lot of talent there and he agreed but said it would have to learn to keep playing off each other and that was certainly highlighted in that opening game against Pine Crest.  But here we are about two-thirds through the season and the offense looked so much better last night.  The defense has been solid all year and the goaltending is pretty darn good too.  Coach Bolger has had to toil in the shadow of his more famous program and that has unfairly masked some darn good teams he put together in the past, when he finished Top 10 in the state in my past polls.  Those teams never got a chance to see how far a run they could make; the lacrosse Gods owe them one. Five years ago I watched an Oxbridge program grow into manhood (figuratively!) as a team and I’m seeing a similar glide path here.  One thing that will hurt them is that the early season game with SA was a Covid victim and the schedules right now don’t look favorable to re-setting the date.  On another hand though that might actually work out to their favor if the FHSAA power ranking system ends up seeding SJP in the top slot, assuming they can go into Oxbridge on Friday, the 27th, and come away with the win (obviously this is an assumption, not a prediction).  There is only American Heritage-Delray left after that and SA does not have a tougher game left in District. How interesting that could be given how crazy the past 14 months have been!     And this year Class 1A is spread out for the most part except in District 13, where SA, Oxbridge, SJP and King’s all reside.  Pine Crest looks like the clear favorite in D14, Belen in D15 and Gulliver in D16.  Over the years that’s tended to be true but with St. Thomas also thrown in the mix before the 2 classes (Jupiter/Benjamin were Region 3).  This year you could make a case that if SA gets upset in District that the path to the Final Four is wide open.  Seeding at #1 in D13 will be more important this year because King’s has been racked by injuries and has fallen a little behind the other three.  No one wants the 2-3 semifinal game. Stay tuned! Benjamin is one of those teams that are really hard to figure at times.  There’s been some pretty bad losses at times and a few games that you say ‘wow’.  One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that when it’s a close game they find a way to win, particularly at home.  It was about halftime that a memory came to me about the last time I saw them host SJP and it was the year the tornado took out the home field and they played at the Middle School, a game that the Bucs pulled out in OT if memory serves.     And last night they found a way to pull it out again, in a game that followed a similar pattern.  Benjamin got out early, only to be reeled back in . . . but also found a way to take the win late in the game. One thing about the game that would drive the coaches crazy?  FOUR goals scored in the last 20 seconds of a quarter; Benjamin at 0:17 of the first, SJP at 0:05 of the second, and EACH scored in the 3rd.  Neither coach needed the grey hair. One person who didn’t grey any last night was me, as I got to sit back and watch this.  With the shortened season last year you’d expect that the second half of this one would see a lot better version of lacrosse and that’s what is happening now.  Even though the defenses seem to be ahead of the offenses this season in the Southeast that might adjust some as the season winds down.  Benjamin has both and something that many schools don’t in their offense, the ability to break down a defender.  It’s not something in abundance this year here.     Statistically the game last night was pretty close except for shots on goal in Benjamin favor versus SJP’s dominance at the faceoff.  The tradeoff certainly made a difference and my eye test confirmed it, as the runs by the teams matched with those two stats.  What did help to make the difference was that the individual efforts of Benjamin (only 1 goal was assisted versus 4 of 8 for SJP) drew back what was SJP’s second half momentum. And in a game like this, that becomes the margin of victory. *********** SJP got off fast at 10:58 of the first as Joe Dean curled from behind right and found the low short side with the left hand for 1-0.  But then Benjamin went on a 5-goal run over the next 18 minutes of the game.  A little over a minute later it was Trevor Natalie side stepping on the right wing and hitting the low left corner for 1-1.  At 6:04 it was Dominick DeVito going from up top down the left alley and hitting the top of the net for 2-1.  Natalie then extended the lead with 0:17 to go as he dodged from the right wing to the middle for the high bounce shot top left for 3-1 after one.     Luke Pisani made it 4-1 at 10:50 of the second as he spun on the left wing and his shot glanced off the defender’s stick, fooling SJP goalie Landon Reichert (15 saves) low.  Less than two minutes later it was long pole Lenny Lindahl picking off the clearing pass near midfield and taking off down the middle for the low, 10-yard shot for 5-1.  SJP finally broke the run with 4:08 left as Kyle Davis went to pass from behind left to the crease but the pass got all the way to Dean on the left wing and he stepped down for the low short side tally.  DeVito got that back at 1:37 when went down the right alley and hit the top left corner for 6-2.  Davis then made a marvelous pass to Travis Dick from top left, leading Dick in the middle and allowing him to get off the shot with 6 seconds left to make it 6-3 at the half and give SJP life. The Eagles took right up in the third as Dick found a loose ball near the cage and wiggled his body into a slow shot for 6-4 at 10:23.  Henry Konsker fed Dean on the top right from up top on a delayed penalty call and Dean ripped the top left for 6-5 at 5:37.  Benjamin responded with 20 seconds left on their only successful EMO of the night as DeVito found Natalie on the left wing from top left for the step down to the top left corner but Dean responded with 5 seconds in the quarter as he dodged from top right to the middle for the left hand low shot for 7-6 after 3.     Again the Eagles carried the momentum forward and within two minutes took the lead.  At 11:25 it was Alex Dunn cutting to the crease and Dean finding him from behind for the tie, drawing the penalty too.  After a second call it was a 6 on 4 and Davis took advantage of a slow to recognize slide as he slid out from behind left to the crease and finished low for SJP’s first lead since early in the game.  SJP won the next faceoff and tried to run some time but eventually the Bucs regained possession and with 6:39 to go it was Brady Quinn curling from behind and beating his defender to the cage, hitting the top right corner for the tie, setting up the finish.  Eventually it was Pisani going right alley from up top and finding the top left to make it 9-8 with 3:14 to go.  Benjamin was able to run out most of the remaining time and take away the close win.   Here’s Benjamin HC Peter Cordrey after the game: FloridaLacrosseNews on Twitter: “Benjamin HC Peter Cordrey after their 9-8 win over SJP!” / Twitter   Team Statistics Faceoffs:  SJP 15-5 Shots:  Benjamin 40-26 Shots on Goal:  Benjamin 24-15 Turnovers:  SJP 17-13 Penalties:  SJP 9-5   Individual Statistics Benjamin Trevor Natalie  3G Dominick DeVito  2G/1A Luke Pisani  2G Brady Quinn and Lenny Lindahl with 1G each Brock Roe with 7 saves     SJP Joe Dean  4G/1A Travis Dick  2G Kyle Davis  1G/2A Alex Dunn 1G Henry Konsker  1A Landon Reichert with 15 saves   Thanks to both coaches for talking to me before and after the game.