From the Vault: When the Bobcats Finally Slayed the Scots; the 2014 District Final

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April 17th, 2014 (note: the pictures did not come over with the database change)

Boca Takes the Next Step: District 23 Final – Boca 9 – SA 7

It would be easy to just write the standard sports cliches about this one . . .

The changing of the guard

The death of a dynasty

and so on

But that’s not what really happened last night.  The dynasty died in 2011.  And in 2012 it was put off for a year only to be put to rest for good last year.

I’m not sure what everyone expected . . . but last night is just another example of what is going on in this sport at all levels in this country, not just this state.

I know this is hard for some to read but the better team won last night.  The better team THIS YEAR ONLY.  No one knows what next year will bring. But for the last two months Boca Raton was the better team.  Better quality wins.  A win in the first head-to-head matchup earlier.  When you look at these two teams this season it was not difficult for me to think Boca was the favorite going into this game even though SA was the #1 seed.

Even early in the season I had a feeling that I was witnessing a sense of deja vu.

35 years ago I sat in the stands at Boswell Field in Geneva, N.Y. and watched Hobart lose an NCAA quarterfinal game to St. Lawrence, a team that had never been a factor before.  Two years before that Hobart had crushed a darn good Washington (Md.) team in the finals, similar to how SA had handled LHP two years ago in Port St. Lucie.  In 1978, Roanoke came to town and scored a late goal to upset the Statesmen to snatch away a championship most assumed would be retained, similar to what happened last year in West Orange when the Scots narrowly lost.  And last night I witnessed a similar game to the St. Lawrence one.

By the way, for Saint Andrew’s fans, Hobart regained their title in 1980.  And started another dynasty.

Last night was one game, not a lifetime.

Let’s not make too much of it in the grand scheme of things.

Parity is here to stay.

And it never happens if SA’s program doesn’t show everyone what it took.

The NY Yankees, the Montreal Canadians, the Green Bay Packers, the Boston Celtics . . .

Nothing lasts forever but the earth and skies, as the song lyrics go.  And the school’s lacrosse heritage is not Dust in the Wind.

It is still a heck of a program at a heck of a school and it will still be a force . . . but it now has company and it will never be the same again.

———

If you took away the names on the jerseys this one was not difficult to figure out what happened.

Saint Andrews; started out the game with a simple strategy: test the young backup goalie early and often and try to break Boca’s spirit by getting out in front.

But in order to accomplish that one simple thing had to happen . . . the shots had to be on goal.

And what really made the difference in the game is that the Boca defense forced the Scots into shooting just a little further out than they wanted to and most of those shots failed to hit the net.  In the first three quarters SA only put 9 shots on target on 26 attempts.  This gave Boca goalie Collin Pepper a chance to get comfortable and it made a big difference as time went on.  SA’s offense really had to work hard to get good looks as the game went on and that was a constant theme all season.

Boca took advantage of their own early opportunities.  At 9:32 Parker Giarratana put Boca up as he curled from behind the right side of the net and finished with the left hand, low to the short side.  Less than two minutes later Boca took advantage on the EMO as Ryan Clinton took Giarratana’s feed from behind the right side of the net on the right wing and fired into the top left corner for 2-0.  Then at 4:39 Tripp Whitney worked the crease and found the high left-side of the net unassisted to push the lead to 3-0 and it looked like Boca had taken command.

Those of you who remember last year’s District final would have started to wonder whether we were in for a repeat as SA immediately came back with two goals of their own to make it 3-2 after one.  At 3:44 Addison Lutes worked some stick magic in the middle after Jake LeGates fed him from up top and Lutes placed it low with an underhand shot and just 51 seconds later Zach Schwartz scored unassisted with a right-hand shot on the left wing between the legs of Pepper, and faint whispers of comebacks past started to seep in.

Giarratana put Boca back up two early in the second as he replicated the move on his first goal at 10:12, while on the EMO.  SA’s defense was not sharp on that play as he was able to come out from behind before the slide reacted.  The teams settled down after that scorewise but play turned sloppy and SA’s offense went cold.  And if it wasn’t for Boca rushing their offense in the period it would have been worse.  Boca’s long poles clamped down on SA’s attack and limited the Scots to only 3 attempts at goal in the period with only one being on net.  SA also turned the ball over 6 times, many of which were caused turnovers.  SA’s defense responded admirably, causing Boca to turn it over 7 times themselves and only hit the nets 3 out of 10 attempts themselves.  But Boca made the most of it and with just 30 seconds left in the half Nick McCabe broke through with a stop and go change of pace dodge from the left wing to the middle and he beat SA goalie Connor Poetzinger low on the left side and we went to halftime with Boca leading 5-2.

McCabe replicated the move early in the second half, taking advantage of the field conditions, to make it 6-2 at 10:30.  McCabe tends to run and dodge in a straight up posture and that was very effective throughout the game as it allowed him to create space when the defenders had to change direction on the wet turf.  That advantage would show up a couple of more times later in the game and it made a big difference.

So here we were, just like last year.  Boca up 4 goals in the third quarter.

And the faint whispers started to stir the ashes of comebacks past once again.  SA held Boca scoreless the rest of the third quarter and that gave SA’s offense a chance to chip away.

At 5:49 SA snapped a 21-minute scoreless drought as Keith Mahler took advantage of some space on the left wing to step down and fire a 10-yard rocket into the short-side upper corner to make it 6-3 as Boca’s defense fell asleep on the play, leaving SA’s most dangerous outside shooter open. Then at 3:12 SA cut into the lead further as Lutes scored unassisted, executing a rare left-wing dodge and re-dodge for him and he finished with a right-hand shot between the legs and we finished the quarter with Boca leading 6-4.

The fourth quarter started with the SA run continuing, as Ben Kennedy took LeGates’ feed in the middle from the right wing, making a tough catch and going low with the right hand and it was now a one goal game with plenty of time left.

And the whispers turned into louder noises as the SA rooting section sensed a repeat of last year . . .

But the two teams really clamped down on each other for the next 6:30, setting the stage for the fireworks to come in the last 4 minutes.  SA was throwing everything they could at the net and Boca was trying to play patiently with the ball, but without a lot of success.  Boca’s long poles, led by Harrison Rodormer’s monster performance on ground balls and caused takeaways (Coaches, you didn’t listen to me on this one, did you?) stood tall and forced a lot of the shots to come from outside or difficult looks where they couldn’t step into it or follow through.

And set the stage for quite the ending.

With 4:03 left McCabe again replicated his stop and start dodge from the left wing to the middle and found the net for 7-5, drawing a penalty on the play.

But Boca made a huge mental mistake on the following faceoff (not sure why there was one in that situation with the penalty) and allowed SA’s faceoff specialist Alex Newhouse, who completely dominated the circle to the tune of 16 for 19, a clear path down the middle after popping it forward into space.  He made no mistake and just 5 seconds had elapsed so we were now 7-6.

The teams traded possessions as SA again forced the action seeking the equalizer but at 2:34 Clinton and Christian Mauro teamed up for the play that pretty much won the game.  It was a risky play but executed flawlessly as Clinton cut back door from the left side and Mauro hit him in stride a few yards out and Clinton finished perfectly with the right hand to the left side and it was a two-goal lead with 2:34 left.

And the roars were starting to recede back to whispers as it started to sink in that the ghosts of the past might well have been spent.

After a few more possession changes Boca got a timeout deep in SA territory and they set up McCabe to try to control the possession behind the net.  SA set up the double team trap behind the net after a few seconds but McCabe’s speed and footing enabled him to beat the double on the outside instead of trying to split the two and he had clear sailing from the right GLE to the net and he buried the ghosts once and for all.

A final late goal by SA with 7 seconds left said something nice about their team, that they played to the final whistle, and with pride.

And now we all knew we were privy to that special moment in sports when something happens that is outside the norm.

For the SA students in attendance, full-throated all game long in their efforts to lift their team, their fellow students, and most importantly, their friends, the gentle quietness that comes when you realize it just wasn’t meant to be today.

For the Boca students, that feeling of finally believing they weren’t going to be disappointed in this long-time quest.  Almost Quixote-like.  Peering around the corner to see if the coast was really clear.  And in a nice touch by the Spanish River administrators, allowed to celebrate with their team on the field.

Just north in Palm Beach Gardens a similar plot played out as Jupiter and Benjamin also played a scintillating District final for a playoff spot.

Jupiter and Saint Andrew’s.

Neither made it out of district.

The real big picture of last night.

Southeast Florida lacrosse truly arrived last night.

Savor it readers.

For SA’s seniors, and for Jupiter’s, thank you for this great season.  And all the best to you in the future.

The sun will come up in the east sky tomorrow and one day you’ll understand how special this was.

———

Instead of my usual statistically recap here I’d like to say a few words of my own about last night.

Seven years ago I began to follow lacrosse down here and since I lived in the Boca area it was natural I would gravitate towards following Saint Andrew’s.  I immediately adopted the Scots program after seeing the level of excellence of their play and over time got to know some of the players and parents and they welcomed me into their extended family with no reservations at all.  I was able to watch the highs and lows, the quest for those elusive wins over the northern powers and the annual march to state conquest.  And when they finally broke through against Boys’ Latin and the next year against Archbishop Spaulding, and were knocking off other northern teams it was a terrific experience for me when I needed something fun to focus on when I was going through some tough times.  And when they finally lost in 2011 I felt it too.  In 2012 I was in the stands when they regained their mantle in Port St. Lucie and once again felt the pride of what is was like to fight back.

After that game I was asked by FLN to become a contributor and decided to give it a go the next season, not knowing what to expect.  I had to make the difficult decision that the new position would mean I could no longer root openly for SA and instead had to evolve into rooting for the sport instead.  That was not as easy as it sounds; I’m still friendly with a lot of the SA extended family of parents, coaches and even ex-players.

This season was special because it built the suspense all season long.  SA barely lost in the state finals last year in my first year at FLN and I was fortunate to be in the stands for some of the greatest playoff lacrosse you would ever want to see – SA-Boca, Benjamin-Jupiter, Benjamin-Vero, Columbus Catholic-STA.  But these all happened in a short period of time, and it sort of snuck up on everyone that something big was going on.

That wasn’t the way this season has played out.

For most sports fans of my age the most memorable moment of our lives as fans was the 1980 Miracle on Ice.  But that one also snuck up on us, in a matter of days, because no one really thought is was a possibility.

This season is more comparable for me to the first Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier fight, which was a HUGE deal when it happened, with a lengthy buildup.  The ‘beautiful people’ all came out for that fight and it really did split the country into two camps.

Last night, for both games, was the climax of the local season, regardless of how the playoffs turn out from here.  Two great teams in each district, on a collision course all season.  As the game time closed in I had a sense of anticipation that went well beyond normal for me.  I can’t really explain it; which is why it probably became so big.

And lived up to every minute of it.

Thank you kids.

It’ll be a long time before that occurs again.

Or it wouldn’t be so special.

———-

Last year I wrote that Coach Dawson and Coach Holly should get together for a beer after the District Final and that it was on me.

The offer still stands . . .

I’ll even buy the wings.