I’ve been wanting to highlight more of these stories in the early years of writing for FLN, and this one always sticks in my mind, as well as many who played or coached in this game.
The story going in was simple. Four teams would make the district playoffs and Saint Andrew’s, SJP II and Boca High were locked in. This game was for the final spot between West Boca and Spanish River, and WB had never made the playoffs before. Hence the title the War for Four.
I still have conversations about this game when others ask about my favorite games; this one certainly made the list!
Another night . . . another great game to cover!
West Boca and Spanish River faced off Wednesday night for the last position in the District 23 playoffs and it came down to the end before Spanish River held on for a 13-12 victory. They will play the winner of Friday’s Pope John Paul – Saint Andrew’s game in the first round.
A heartbreaking loss for a West Boca team that has turned around a 1-13 season last year, coming into the the game with an 8-3 record, with the only losses being to district rivals SA, Pope and Boca Raton. Spanish River came into the game 2-9 and looking for a favorable ending to a season of playing a brutal schedule with only one team with a losing record.
And then there was the human factor as Spanish River head coach Zander Maslow, in his first season was facing former River head coach Brian Johnson, assisting head coach Dustin Markwardt at West Boca.
Throw in a large crowd on a picture perfect night and you had the makings of a special event. West Boca has not made the District playoff in the current 23 grouping and that added a level of intrigue to the game.
What transpired was two games . . . the first quarter where Spanish River played the transition game to perfection in jumping out to a 9-1 lead in the quarter . . . and the last three quarters where West Boca chipped away and Spanish River stemmed the surge. 9-2 became 9-6 at half. 9-6 became 10-9 in the third but then went back to 13-9 after three before WB made their final charge up the hill before running out of time. Kind of like Permian coming up short against Dallas Carter in Friday Night Lights. The comeback had a very similar feel.
Both goalies featured prominently in the game. Jake Diamond in the first half and Tyler DaVita in the second. Both ended with 15 saves and many were at key moments when each team was grabbing momentum. There were some individual performances too . . . Steve Santoro with 7 goals and Grant Telford, who managed to imitate the old Mazda engine commercial all game long, added 2G/5A with a number of key second half faceoff wins for West Boca and that was matched by Spanish River’s Josh Stiefel with 4G/5A and Colton Stanger’s 4G/2A.
But as always in these games one team had to lose.
And it hurt . . .
So many times you need to learn how to win the big games and even though SR had the worse record maybe the tougher teams they played had them a little better prepared for this one. It’s such a tough trade-off. Build your team up with wins after a bad season or take on the toughest schedule you can. Really depends on what you want to accomplish and in both cases it was the right choice. But in the end River won the game and to the victor goes the ‘reason’. That’s why debating sports is so much better than debating politics or anything else. History gives us all possible causes and enough results to make your case.
West Boca will be better next year for the experience and nothing that happened last night changes the fact that they reversed a 1-13 2014 season to a winning one this year and they should be proud of that as long as they live.
As for whoever plays Spanish River in district . . . don’t take them too lightly, there’s plenty of talent there.
And a goalie who can make a difference in a playoff game.
You’ve been warned.
The game started out perfectly for River as they jumped out to a 4-0 lead before the game was 4:30 old. At 11:15 Alex Ehrenstein took Josh Bernstein’s feed from behind the right side on the low right wing and hit the upper left corner with the left hand. Then at 9:32 Stanger converted Stiefel’s top middle feed on the left side, finishing between DaVita’s legs and that was followed 24 seconds later as Diego Jordan split two defenders down the the right wing and hit the low left corner. Stanger completed the run at 7:39 as Stiefel found him cutting down the middle from the left wing and Stanger finished on the left side for 4-0. West Boca got on the board as Santoro snuck out from behind the right side and Telford found him from the middle all alone and Santoro went low with the shot.
But SR responded with a 5-goal outburst to make it 9-1.
At 5:57 Stiefel unassisted as he cut out from left GLE and used the right hand to hit the low left corner
5:06 – Ehrenstein finished a 3-2 fast break, taking Stiefel’s left wing pass on the right side and finishing short side high
1:22 – Jordan unassisted going down the right wing and when the slide failed to come he hit the low left corner
1:14 – Turner Walker pops a faceoff forward and hits the same spot (Walker was injured in the second and did not return)
0:24 – Another fast break with Stiefel finishing Ehrenstein’s right wing pass and Stiefel was all alone in front with the easy goal
But with 17 seconds left Santoro took advantage of Telford popped his own faceoff forward and found Santoro again sneaking out from behind the cage to make it 9-2 after the first.
In most situations you don’t see a comeback from this but the stakes were too high and SR mentally let up a bit and as all coaches know throughout sports that can be a lethal combination . . .
The comeback started early in the second as WB scored two goals in 16 seconds to cut the lead to 9-4. Santoro at 9:21 as curled out from the left side and found the low left corner, drawing a penalty on the play and at 9:05 Telford took advantage of the EMO to dodge in from the right wing to the middle and hit the low left corner. Then at 3:32 the two of them combined again on the middle pass to the cutting attackman at the right crease and it was 9-5. Then at 1:29 freshman Griffin Berke, who factored in late in the game too, picked up a loose ball on the left side after a Diamond save and was able to finish into an open net and all of a sudden it was 9-6 SR at the half.
Just 20 seconds into the second half it was a 2-goal lead as Santoro again curled from behind the right side, this time hitting the top left corner. After possessions were traded back and forth River regained the 3-goal lead as Stanger took Stiefel’s left wing feed in the middle and he hit the low left side with the left hand at 6:59. But WB got that one back at 5:42 as Santoro again worked the right side, getting to GLE and to the crease before going low. That also drew a penalty but SR killed it off. But at 1:44 Santoro and Telford again teamed up to cut the lead to one as they again replicated their down the middle feed to the right crease and all of a sudden WB had clawed all the way back to one.
But River then put on a last minute blitz that should have broken WB’s spirit. At 1:09 Stanger took advantage of another fast break (a constant theme of the game was how effective SR was in transition versus their settled offense) and took Stiefel’s left GLE feed on the right crease for the easy put away. Then at 0:48, on EMO, Stanger returned the favor, finding Stiefel on the left crease from the middle and with only 2 seconds left they teamed on another fast break that beat the clock, as Stiefel was all alone in front as Stanger hit him with a right wing pass and he beat DaVita.
Action packed and WB had to be thankful that DaVita also made 7 saves in the quarter to keep WB able to chip away until the late run.
So it was River up 13-9 with 12 minutes to go.
But again WB reached down and found an answer. At 10:28 Telford took a pass from Kris San Lucas down the right wing and Telford hit the low left corner for 13-10. just 40 seconds later Berke, on EMO, took Telford’s feed on the wing and cut to the middle before hitting the low left corner to cut it to a two-goal lead again at 13-11. Turnovers for both teams kicked in as the intensity ratcheted up even further. But with 6:26 left Zach Rubenstein made it 13-12 as went across the field from the right wing to the left alley and got off a left-hand shot that found the low right corner, setting up the frantic ending.
River was able to hold off most attempts and play with some possession and when we got down to the last 2:30 it had to find a way to really hold off WB’s efforts. There were two great opportunities in that last 2:30 for WB to tie it. One had a set play with Telford taking a right wing pass as he cut down the alley but he was not able to get the shot off. The second was one of my favorite memories of the game. With about 1:15 left the freshman Berke (who looked to me from the press box to be about 4 feet tall) was left alone on the left wing with River almost daring him to take the shot. He barely hesitated and move in to about 8 yards before letting go. It missed the net to the left but I was thrilled you were willing to take that shot . . . in that situation. Hold your head up over the summer!
Alas, that was pretty much the last real chance WB had to tie it up and after regaining possession River was able to run out much of the clock and although there were a few late turnovers none of them turned into a threatening situation and the game ended with the entire stadium emotionally spent.
Looks like I made the right call on which game to cover last night . . .
In a little while the WB kids will realize what they did last night and the River kids will have a bright memory for later. The fathers will commiserate and the mothers will do what they do and the sun will rise in the east the next day . . . but the emotions will always be just under the surface . . . and time will heal all.
And once again we get to witness why this sport is so great.
West Boca faces highly-ranked Stoneman Douglas at home on Friday while Spanish River travels to Martin County on April 1st.
Faceoffs: WB 14-12
Shots: SR 43 – WB 38
Shots on Goal: SR 28 – WB 27
Turnovers: WB 26 – SR 23
Penalties: WB 5 – SR 4
Josh Stiefel 4G/5A
Colton Stanger 4G/2A
Alex Ehrenstein 2G/1A
Diego Jordan 2G
Turner Walker 1G
Josh Bernstein 1A
Steve Santoro 7G
Grant Telford 2G/5A
Griffin Berke 2G
Zach Rubenstein 1G
Kris San Lucas 1A
Jake Diamond and Tyler DaVita both made 15 saves and were highly instrumental in their team’s scoring runs
Thanks to Coach Maslow of Spanish River and Coaches Dustin Markwardt and Brian Johnson of West Boca for talking to me before and after the game.