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District 26: A Four Of A Kind, A Straight, A Pair and A Fold

Boca vs Saint Andrew’s SJP II vs American Heritage-Boca Had a couple of hopes for some fun last night. Didn’t get it. At least Just Baked Boca got some good publicity last night . . .    Those familiar with past years know I handle the semifinals of Districts differently . . . for those who don’t know that . . . I handle the semifinals of Districts differently. Hope that explains it. Covering two games in the old fashioned way would give me some carpal tunnel so it’s handled more as a narrative than anything else. With one exception.  This year I actually brought the laptop to the press box and was going to type it out as it played out instead of taking notes. One small problem. Office 365 does not seem to work offline, at least to me.  No WiFi on the SA campus or in the booth. But to the rescue was Sticky Note!  If you can handle typing 1,000+ words on a box that only lets you see about 60 at a time.  And thankfully the old cut and paste function worked when I finally got home and got the WiFi going. Thank you God, for not making me recreate this from my memory . . .    The games kind of stunk.  In the first one Boca never got out of the gate, going down to SA 20-2 and in the nightcap it was SJP II going out in the second quarter and never relinquishing momentum in a turnaround of the regular season matchup, with an easy 14-7 win over AH-Boca. Here’s how I wrote it up as the games went along:
    Cloudless sky at SA, with a touch of a breeze.  Warm weather, which is something not a lot of the kids have coped with yet during this unseasonably cool lacrosse season.  Should not be too much of a problem for either team and the later game will start when the sun is likely low.  SA comes into the game as a prohibitive favorite, having cruised comfortably past Boca Raton in the regular season. As most of you know by now, I cover the District semis a little differently from a single game.  The district playoff semifinals are a unique event.  Only at the State Championships do you have the similar given that two teams are going to end their seasons at the same location on the same day and that guarantees intensity of play. The best part of Districts is that there are no surprises going in, the teams have already played once so the fear factor is not present.  Just all out hard play, not wanting to put the equipment away for the year.     Saint Andrew’s is the host school this year.  Smack in the middle of the greater Boca area.  The furthest road trip will probably be AH-Boca, which has to travel about 3 miles down Jog Road, hang a left at the SA entrance and find parking.  Boca is about 2 miles away, with the trip up Glades to Jog and then a right.  SJP II really could walk if there was a path between the two schools.  Kind of like the old Long Island way of street hockey . . . put together a team from the block, pick up a ringer or two, and then walk about 400 yards to whoever had a tennis court with the net put away for the winter.  And of course, the net posts pulled out of the ground.  Don’t need any more hindrances. 5:00pm starts are the price we pay for two games.  It’s worth it, even if I had to leave the market 15 minutes before the closing bell.  A number of parents are already here so as the game goes on I expect us to fill out the stands.  All 4 teams have solid fan bases.  Even Seth Austin is here to take pictures before he has to go to a pre-scheduled affair!  No sighting of Wells yet, but that’s his editor’s call, not his.  The podcast, as usual, has been listened to a lot, and those who listened know where I stand on this game.  For those who didn’t listen . . . what the heck is wrong with you? Another difference today (kind of like the Four Questions of Passover, why is this night different from all other nights?) is that I am going to shamelessly plug my son’s less than one year old company, Just Baked Boca . . . I’ll get to that later.    
SA jumps out early with a first minute goal and follows up with an EMO goal to make it 2-0 86 seconds in. 
  As I look across the field at the benches I see kids and coaches shielding their eyes.  So many fields in Florida are north-south and this time of the day it can be brutal to look at the falling sun.  Coach Chris Holly of Boca Raton is the only head coach currently coaching who has this District Championship under his belt aside from SA.  That season ended in a Final Eight run and a two-goal loss to Benjamin and a very high Final ranking in my poll that year.  It’s been a tougher road to travel since then.  The public/private divide shows here in a bit of funny way.  I think in the last four years I’ve seen three different helmets for SA while Boca keeps to their traditional look . . . or something like that.  
Boca gets on the board with about 5 minutes to go to make it a 5-1 game.  And on the ensuing faceoff a collective note of anguish for the Scots as star defender Oliver Alpert goes down and gets carted off.  We’ll keep an eye out to see if he returns. 
    Boca Raton High will be hosting the State Championships this year and I would hope we see huge crowds.  Just don’t forget, since it is later this year than in previous years.  The schedule is a bit different this year, as many of you have heard my rant on that.  The Girls semifinals are still annoyingly opposite the Florida Launch home game on Thursday, but the Boys final has thankfully been moved to a 7:00pm start on Saturday.  I guess they realized that a potential break between the late semifinal on Friday and a 3:00pm Finals the next day wasn’t a good idea, never mind the ticket sales they would likely lose.  
The game has slowed down some, as SA leads 8-1 with 5 minutes gone in the second, as that is the only goal of the quarter so far.  Oliver Alpert has returned to action so he looks okay but there had to be a lot of held breath for about 10 minutes. 
    SA’s recent three years are really a tale of unfulfilled promise.  Long the dominant state program until Lake Highland came along to take that mantle away the Scots looked two years ago to regain their swagger, only to come up against the lacrosse equivalent of the perfect game in the first round upset by Oxbridge.  I was at that game and when it ended it was almost eerie, as if the game wasn’t really over and that a fifth quarter would set things straight.  The shock on the field was real and a very anticipated second round match with a St. Thomas team that had handled them comfortably at the previous year’s semifinals was snatched from lacrosse fans all over the state.  
SA has lengthened this out to 12-2 with a minute to go as their offense continues to combine assists and isolated dodges effectively.  It’s getting close to a blow out and unfortunately that seems to happen a lot in District playoffs around the state.  As much as the teams are hyped up for the start of the game an early lead can have even more of a ‘downer’ effect as the momentum slowly oozes out of the players.
    Boca Raton is still pretty young this year and the season probably played out the way it should have.  They do not schedule light and when they can’t get over the hump the win-loss record does not always reflect how good they are.  
But today it’s just a different ball game and the old SA has returned.  It’s 15-2 midway through the third.
  After the shocking loss to Oxbridge the team came back the next season and looked almost as strong.  But later in the season the team chemistry seemed to take a turn down and although they got back to the playoffs it was not the same and they were easily taken down by Oxbridge.  It was a strange feel to what seemed like the re-igniting of the program.  Because of the last two years it was almost a part of the thinking going in to this season that SA needed to prove themselves all over again. The season started quietly.  Another loss to Oxbridge was followed by a number of expected results.  The season was not as rigorous as the number of games scheduled was light, even to the point that the team was still hoping to schedule a few more as the season started.  There was only one MIAA matchup and most of the better in-state games scheduled came later on.  The team basically was fixed in the polls as the other ranked teams took turns playing each other more.     The turning point for the season was likely the Jupiter game.  A solid effort and what looked as a simple final minute almost turned disastrous as Jupiter scored twice late to send it to OT before the Scots prevailed.  That ignited the late season run as the confidence level rose.  And now we’ll see if the pain of the last two seasons results in the gain of 2018.  Of course, in all likelihood, it will be their sternest test staring right in front of them.  
The game ended with running time and the final score was 20-2. 
  Which means that Coach Holly has to make that speech all coaches hate, the one that always includes a thank you to all the seniors who worked so hard for the program.  There are 132 teams that qualify for districts and only one coach does not have to make that speech, partly because that team and coach is too busy smiling to thank anyone for anything except for the win.  Either way, knowing Coach Holly, I know he really gets eaten up by that last speech.  For Coach Seaman and staff, a bit of a scouting expedition.  SJP II and American Heritage-Boca are up next.  Two pretty passionate rooting bases.  Both teams looking to get their shot Thursday.  And the other side of the bracket looking at the winner as the next hill to climb in the long path back to the King of the Mountain.   *****   Now these are uniforms!  Black with white numbers and white with black numbers! Nirvana!! I make the over/under on bruises in this one at 50, they are both physical teams.  
SJP with the early lead on a nice early backdoor feed. 
  Both goalies having good starts but the shooters on each team are making it easier for them.  Not a great flow to the game yet.     These two programs are both trending the right direction.  SJP II had a tough record last year and AH-B managed to sneak into the district playoff, where they gave SA a nice tussle before falling.  SJP and Boca played a lights out semifinal, and they prevailed on a late goal.  Both teams came into the season with higher expectations.  AH-B achieved those expectations easier, while SJP’s season is almost a rollercoaster, but even more so than the typical Disney fare, more like Sheikra at Busch Gardens.  
AH-B took the lead 2-1 and SJP has answered back and it’s 2-2 late in the 1st.  A much better matchup.
  AH-B only won twice last season but they were the two games they needed. They won a lot more this year.  
SJP takes a 2-goal lead off two nice odd man plays, the second of which was a nice pick up of a bounced pass in front for the in-close shot and it’s 4-2 with 9 minutes left.
  With a little under 5 minutes in the half it is 5-3 after AH-B’s defense fell asleep and SJP took advantage and off the following faceoff it is now 6-3 on another quick goal.  One thing that is very different about this game is that the crowd is really into it on both sides.  The way the first game played out the crowd was basically two islands, one with an easy cheering experience and one that pretty much could only sit on their hands.     This crowd is blended together and no moment of action goes uncommented on. More than once . .  . And of course neither team did anything wrong . . . Life in District 26.  
SJP takes a 7-3 lead at the half with a few more grind it out goals
  And I decided to leave the press box and go watch the game down on the sideline. Just needed to take a break. To get back to shamelessly plugging Just Baked Boca . . . I had brought a sample pack for one of the site’s bigger fans and went down to see what the reaction was.  There was no sign of the boxes so that meant one of two things to me . . . they loved them and finished quickly OR they hated them and threw them out. Actually, they liked them and put a few that were left in the car for later and to keep them out of reach of enquiring kids. Let’s see if word gets around . . .   The weather was so good last night that I did not go back to the booth the rest of the game until it was time to pick up the laptop and frankly it didn’t matter. SJP gradually stretched out the lead and AH-B only showed a little run late in the game but never got below 4 goals down. I was standing behind some of the AH-B rooters lining the fence and their frustrations were easily seen.  Every missed shot or dropped pass was Maalox-inducing.  Or Mylanta or Tums or whatever is the market leader for upset stomachs today. For maybe the first time ever I did not go down to the field after either game to talk to the coaches.  Not really much to learn in these two. Before the second game started I did get a visit in the booth from most of the SA coaching staff who were going to stay and scout.  Those who listened to the podcast gave it 2 thumbs up.  Had a chance to talk a little to Coach Seaman, who obviously is involved with the Denver Outlaws MLL draft selections today and we threw some names around. They left at halftime to go to the other side of the field, they probably could have gone home given how the second half played out.   The crowd filed out fairly quickly, this was the preliminary after all. And Thursday will be a renewal of a District final that’s been held a few times . . . I didn’t check to see what the final bruise count was.  
One thing I always do during playoff season is to recognize and thank those who played their final games, coach their final games and in the rare case, reffed their final game.  This time it’s players only. Thank you to the seniors who are moving on to the next stage of their lives. Thank you for the efforts you put into playing and even entertaining us.  To your parents, thanks for the time and effort you put into your children’s passion for this sport.  Thank you for coming out to games and rooting for the team. And don’t forget that you can still come out to root for the high school even while you son or daughter are studying at college! Really, it’s legal! And bring a friend too!