photos by Seth Austin
I finally got my wish Saturday . . . a big crowd . . . boisterous . . . and RESPECTFUL.
Must have been the game.
With a helping hand from the awesome location and stand set up . . . Gulliver’s field is right near the stands . . . and the stands are COVERED and have CEILING FANS . . .
This time of year I’m used to attending games that hopefully have an air-conditioned press box. Hard to believe I didn’t need it.
This was a game that pops up frequently this time of year. An established program having to fend off the new ‘up and comer’. Westminster was looking to make their first FHSAA bracket while Gulliver has made it 11 of the 12 years of the varsity FHSAA years, only missing in 2014.
And the Westminster faithful were out in force Saturday, gathered on the East (?) side of the stands. Full-throated as the British would say. And rarely crapped on a call.
Matched in size by the Raiders (these nicknames must have been granted in the day of Al Davis’ “Just Win Baby” years . . . so many schools use that nickname) and they were equally vocal and restrained in their disgust at a call. A few ‘come ons’ but that was it. Could being under ceiling fans be the answer to this scourge?
This game played out in a way that you expect with this type of matchup. The upstart played hard but fell a little bit short when it came to poise, making key turnovers and shooting poorly when a goal might well have made a huge difference. The school with the playoff experience made those few extra plays and were able to close out the game. The upstart will watch the game film and realize what could have been while the experienced one will gain confidence in seeing how the game plan played out.
The upstart shot 14 for 32 and turned it over 26 times . . . and will kick themselves more because it was a 2-goal game instead of a blow out. They will see they won 13 of 19 faceoffs and their goalie’s save percentage was above 50%.
It’s such a truism in this sport that you learn to crawl, then walk then run . . . or if you prefer, learning how to win.
It all adds up. Clearing was an adventure every time for WC. Sometimes the pass was forced.
The good news is that there is a lot to build on. Head Coach Steven Hernandez played a big role in my first year with FLN, helping to lead an underdog Columbus team to a huge upset over St. Thomas in the Round of 16 (or Region 4 Second Round if you are a purist), a team coached by Jim DeLang, who by good fortune was seated next to me in the stands. He’s young, committed and hungry to make this school a winner. The bad news is that 18 seniors graduate; the good news is that a lot of talent are sophomores. The best news is that the lacrosse community at the school is fully on-board.
Gulliver has been there and done that. Regional finalist in 2019. D1 players in college. Head Coach Jim Piggot has been in place for years and the stability shows.
Do it in crunch time. Play your best when it counts during the game. Finish when the opportunity is there instead of missing the net. Run out the clock.
That’s how you learn poise.
We’ll be watching Westminster going forward as they continue to build!
Gulliver opened the scoring at 9:48 as Tyler Cancio found Christian Olazabal on the crease from up top for the right hand finish. Less than a minute later it was Westminster’s Christian Munia finding Bryce Palmer on top right from the middle for the step down to the top right of the net for 1-1. Gulliver responded at 4:17 as Ryan Noyes worked the right wing and fed a cutting Tanner Jenkins down the alley for the right hand low left corner shot to make it 2-1 after the first.
Westminster’s Matthew Handel tied it up at 9;11 of the second as the Gulliver long pole was stripped and he dodged to the middle from the right for the left hand bounce shot to the right side. At 3:56 the Raiders regained the lead as they picked off the clearing pass and Jenkins had a clean breakaway to the net for the easy finish. Olazabal pushed it to 4-2 with 55 seconds left as he got the defender caught up behind the goal and he curled in front for the high shot but Brandon Micali got that back for WC 24 seconds later as he dodged to the middle from the right and the low shot got through Gulliver goalie Wyatt Craft for 4-3 at the half.
Gulliver pushed it to 5-3 just 26 seconds in after the late 2nd quarter WC penalty gave Gulliver possession to start the third and Jenkins dodged up the left alley and finished with the bounce shot. At 6:26 it was 5-4 as Munia took the Niko Valdez pass (he impressed me all game) from GLE in front for the finish. Gulliver responded 47 seconds later as Jenkins worked the left wing and as he was stick checked got off the shot, finding the low left. Gulliver then took their first three-goal lead at 3:38 as Kyle Goldberg and Olazabal worked a two man game and Olazabal was open on the wing for the step down bounce shot but WC answered 17 seconds later as Palmer found Handel cutting the middle from low left and Handel finished low right to make it 7-5 after three.
Gulliver regained the 3-goal lead at 10:13 as Noyes worked the right wing and finished with the high bounce shot (kids, spend a LOT of practice time on that weapon, most goalies are shading low when they see the stick head moving that way) but WC got it back to two at 8:43 as a pass intended for the middle cutter found it’s way through to Palmer on left wing for the step down. The teams traded goals within 20 seconds as Gulliver killed a penalty and Jenkins drew the slide driving right alley and found Goldberg cutting the middle for 9-6 but Palmer answered with 4:51 to go. Unfortunately for WC that was it as Gulliver was able to take time off the clock and the WC offense failed to capitalize on any late chances.
Learning to win is the next step.
Here’s Gulliver HC Jim Piggot after the game:
Faceoffs: WC 13-5
Shots: Gulliver 39-32
Shots on Goal: Gulliver 19-14
Turnovers: WC 26-19
Penalties: Gulliver 3-2
Tanner Jenkins 4G/1A
Christian Olazabal 3G
Ryan Noyes and Kyle Goldberg with 1G/1A each
Tyler Cancio 1A
Wyatt Craft with 7 saves
Bryce Palmer 3G/1A
Matthew Handel 2G
Christian Munia 1G/1A
Niko Valdez 1A
Christopher Lopetegui with 10 saves
Thanks to Coach Piggot and Coach Hernandez for talking to me before and after the game