This one was back when I would attend a full District semifinal doubleheader and wrote a narrative that wound plenty of information above and beyond the normal game recap. This article featured a semifinal District 26 game between American Heritage-Delray and Saint Andrew’s. SA had won comfortably, 15-5, in the first game of the year and AH-Delray came into the game with a 3-11 record. What happened that day was almost the biggest upset in Florida lacrosse history. Join us with a look back at that incredible moment.
Thank you to Euri Mead and FLN’s own Seth Green for the pictures provided for this article!
A subtle combination of reality and fantasy masked as What-if . . .
Two alliterations in one headline . . . not bad.
Two wildly divergent games . . . also not bad.
One scare and one thrill ride.
Last year I was in attendance for the first round of District 27 at Stoneman and witnessed two duds, a combined 30-2 between the two games. But that didn’t mean there weren’t interesting stories woven around those games. When readers ask me what is my favorite written article for FLN I mention that one in a small batch of choices. This year it was pretty much the opposite. Two really interesting games, one of which went back and forth in the second half with neither team gaining a two-goal advantage the entire half and the other being a LOT closer than most expected.
It’s easy to mention the obvious from Game 1 . . . the meeting of coaching legends . . . both Long Island bred . . . and both with experience at the school. For the first time in the District playoffs as American Heritage/Boca took down Spanish River and West Boca on back to back days to sneak into the district with the 4th seed, in spite of a 3-11 overall record.
Don’t be fooled by that record. Only a couple of those games were blow outs in the final score. How many 3-11 teams lose by 1 to Jupiter, a one-goal loss at 15-1 Pine Crest, and 3 other 2-goal losses? But a 15-5 loss to their opponent in their regular season matchup.
On the other side is the Big Dog of the district, ever since it was formed as a district. A team that has played a number of Top 10 teams and won almost all of them convincingly. A team that played a number of top out of state opponents. A team that is looking to gain revenge for their disappointment in last year’s playoffs and should be hungry for this time of season at a level of almost starvation.
As for the later game it was the latest version of what passes down here for Barca/Real or Dolphins/Jets if the local flavor is sought . . . They played a 3-goal game the first time out. And with the exception of about 14 total minutes of game time neither team had that luxury in this one . . .
Less than a minute into the second half SJP II tied the game at 7 with two quick goals.
The last 23 minutes was something to behold. Lead changes and ties mounted up as neither team garnered a 2-goal lead the entire half and the game was not decided until only 8 seconds remained on the clock . . . and that was a set up by the simple failure of one of the most taught fundamentals in ANY sport . . . two hands.
When ESPN did that wonderful 30 for 30 called Survive and Advance about the NC State miracle NCAA title in 1983 there is a poignant moment as NC State’s Dereck Whittenburg, who was also an Executive Producer of the documentary as well as the shooting guard on that team, talks about the final 10 seconds, when the pass from Thurl Bailey in the left corner came out to him just as the Houston player came out to try to contest the pass, and why he came up with it instead of the Cougar guard heading the other way for the game winning slam dunk . . . I believe the exact quote goes “Thank God for Morgan Wooten, who taught me the fundamentals of basketball. Catch the ball with two hands”. When you see the video of the play the only difference is that he got two hands on it and the other player only one, keeping the ball within Whittenburg’s reach for the late shot that Lorenzo Charles converts off the miss for the championship.
Morgan Wooten was smiling in heaven last night
I talked about a game I saw a previous week about little things adding up . . . didn’t take too long for it to happen again.
And Boca goes home in an amazing 13-12 loss.
By the way, NC State head coach Jim Valvano also grew up on Long Island. As did the SJP II head coach Andy Bolger.
The only head coach in last night’s games that didn’t grow up on the Island was Boca’s Chris Holly, but Penn Yan is a pretty similar place to where the others were from. Blue collar lacrosse last night in that second game . . . a game all of them played a lot in their youth.
But the first game didn’t follow the script.
The first quarter of the opener was kind of like how the big brother and the little brother played a game of backyard basketball when the older brother was about 3 years older . . . score a hoop and waive at the kid brother while on defense. Get the next hoop and relax. The normal thing will happen . . . the game will be won. No need to work up a sweat before dinner. SA took the lead less than 2 minutes in on one of their normal passing plays that dissected the defense. But AH/B didn’t blink. And a sharp passing play of their own evened it. Less than a minute later SA did it again . . . and reacted like they were shrugging it off, nothing special. AH answered quickly with their own. But SA’s top guns teamed again and it looked like a repeatable approach, soon to be the norm for the game.
But a funny thing happened after that. Little brother decided to swing for the fences, to mix the metaphor, and they responded with 3 goals in 27 seconds to take the 5-3 lead and that held up for the first period. They added the first of the second in less than a minute and it was 6-3, and in the next few minutes had some good looks to make it even more, but failed to convert. SA finally reached for the alarm clock and an end to end effort led to 6-4 at 8:49 but AH/B won the next faceoff and scooted right down the wing to gain the 3-goal lead back. The teams traded goals and in the last 2 minutes SA finally got on-track and scored twice to make it AH/B 8-7 at the half.
For the sake of discretion I will not record the SA turnover total in the first half but I believe it was probably more than half the game totals I’ve witnessed the last few years. It was a performance I, and most of the nice-sized crowd in the stands, certainly did not expect.
Too reminiscent of the previous Friday’s game with Centennial . . . which they lost
Sometimes paradigms take a lot longer to be disproved then they are to be established in the first place. We’ve come to expect so much out of the Saint Andrew’s program. For many years they were the standard-bearer of Florida lacrosse and even when fans of other teams would root against them when they would come to town there was also a sense of pride when they played the out of state powers and held their own, or even more.
There was the 2008 win over Boys’ Latin, the 2007 win over McDonogh and the close loss that year to Long Island power Cold Spring Harbor, the undefeated 2009 team that is still likely the best team in Florida history (although last year’s STA now gives it a run) . . . the 2011 wins over Brunswick and the win over Don Bosco Prep in the first big lacrosse event at the Meadowlands.
But the simple fact is that SA has not raised the FHSAA trophy since 2012.
Which means that no one on this current team has experienced that feeling.
It doesn’t get easier. Last year the team was expected to win. Even as the state gets more competitive each year there’s still an assumption that all things will go back to the paradigm. That might be okay for the parents to hope for, but it’s pretty dangerous for the kids to assume it.
Nothing comes easy anymore in this state.
On the other sideline was the creator of the program. And now he is the hunter, not the hunted. Before the game I went up to him and he seemed pretty serene given the setup. Like he had nothing to lose and knew it. Like he had a few things to spring and didn’t want to let me know. He was even smiling, which should have been my biggest hint, he rarely does that before a game he believes he can win.
That finally he was happy with where his fledgling program was going. That his kids had started to get it, regardless of the record.
And that his kids were going to play loose.
Meanwhile, the older brother decided to teach the little one a lesson. And it was a pretty good one. A 6-0 run in the quarter to turn the game around fully in their favor. The ball swung around quickly, the simple mistakes stopped for the most part, and the final 3 seconds looked like the slam dunk on the breakaway to tell the younger one ‘you’re not there yet’.
But then they did it again and went back to sleep.
It didn’t hurt them at first as AH/B struggled to get good looks but then the penalties started to pile up as the defense reached instead of moving their feet and AH/B took advantage to score twice midway through the period and it was now 13-10 with 7 minutes left.
And all of a sudden the sloppiness started up again and AH/B was getting some looks and it took some late heroics by SA’s goalie Nick Ferraro on two clean breakaways that would have made it a 2-goal game with 3 minutes to go and that was pretty much it. A last second goal by SA was almost an act of defiance, but it didn’t mean anything in the scheme of things.
The easiest way to tell about this game? The winning coach wasn’t terribly happy but the losing one was full of smiles afterwards.
And neither legend was wrong.
The second game actually started with as minimum a period of time between the games as I can remember. Or maybe I lost track of time a little bit?
The teams know each other so well. They pretty much play twice every year since they finish 2 and 3 pretty much all the time. Not a lot of newness to the feel.
But an intensity level that tends to peak early until the teams settle into the game.
Both on the field and off.
The sitting arrangement for the second game was, shall we say, spaced? The SA and AH/B rooting sections were pretty much sitting together. The Boca and SJP sections were not. And the Boca section was also broken up into students and others. I think it is kind of a tradition for the Boca students to segment off their section and there were a lot of them there. I would say at least 500 fans showed up for the two games, although a number of first game fans did leave.
Since the press box is located around where the Boca parents were I was not able to hear as much cheering for SJP II, but I’m sure it was there.
For whatever reason the start of the game seemed a little rushed and that maybe kept a little of the building suspense under check.
But Boca didn’t need too much building early . . .
Boca jumped out early to a 3-0 lead in the first . . . three different goal scorers and all in close. They were winning the ground balls and their defense was keeping SJP further out than they wanted. Goalie Spencer Dobkin was dialed in. SJP goalie Steve Brower joined the goaltending party shortly after and both played strong games, regardless of the 25 total goals . . . everything was earned.
But SJP was able to get one with 5 seconds left in the quarter on a low rip from the middle and that helped change momentum as they started their own run. Seven minutes later SJP took the lead with their fourth straight goal as their long distance shooters started to hit the corners.
But only 22 seconds after the fourth goal it was Boca who suddenly grabbed back the momentum with a four goal run of their own in less than 5 minutes. It was pretty much a gunslinger battle on offense between Jared Chaloux and Shawn Gildea for SJP and Zach Frey and Michael Clinton for Boca. And each side had a #11 that also played big roles in Mike Musa and Cam Etten. SJP got one back, again in the last minute to make it 7-5 at the half.
As I like to do with District semi write ups I went to the Wiki page for each school. There was an interesting thing I was not aware of. There is a HUGE difference in the enrollment size of these two schools. Boca lists about 3,500 students . . . does that make this the largest school in the county? SJP II only has 500. that means a significant percentage of SJP II, Boys AND Girls, actually plays this sport. Probably something close to 10%. Saint Andrew’s has about 1,275 and I can’t even find a Wiki for AH/B.
Three of these schools are private. No great surprise there. But the 500 for SJP II really stands out. After watching this rivalry between SJP and SA over the ten years I’ve been attending gmes down here I am always struck by how SJP’s players tend to approach a game with the Scots. It can be best described as a 6-cup coffee breakfast . . . just once I’d like to see how SJP would fare against SA if they played the same way against them that they play against Boca and everyone else on their schedule . . . without the chip on their shoulder.
One of the nice things about last night is that I was able to spend time talking to a grandfather of one of the Boca players (who’s name I forgot to write down unfortunately) who was very involved in the development of the sport in the state of Delaware. He had played at Drexel back in the day and he is looking to referee a good deal down here. Frankly, he’d be a welcome addition to the community no matter what he does.
Halftime came to a close and as the old saying goes . . . we’ve only just begun . . .
As I mentioned before, SJP came out flying and tied the game at 7 in the first 47 seconds with two goals.
As the game went on and the goals mounted I started to waiver as a writer and became more of a fan . . . and I hate to say that I stopped recording the goal plays . . .
And this is what my notes look like from this point on . . .
SJP 8-7 at 8:32 with 25 from 11
Boca 8-8 at 8:32 with 10 from 2
SJP 9-8 at 7:43 with 32 unassisted
Yeah, I pretty much stopped recording WHAT HAPPENED . . . it was getting too much fun just to watch!
Boca 9-9 at 4:52 with 2 from 10 . . . I did write FT BRK, which is my shorthand for fast break
And finally we got a respite as the quarter ended that way
Then in the fourth I completely broke down
Boca 10-9 at 11:08 with 23 from I have no clue . . . now I’m even missing the assists
SJP ties it at 10 with 9:43 left . . . didn’t even see who scored that one
Boca 11-10 at 8:57 . . . guessing it was #10 unassisted
SJP ties it 11-11 at 6:48, looks like #3 unassisted
SJP takes the lead 12-11 with 3:56 left as #25 scores shorthanded . . . got that one
Boca ties it at 12 with 1:35 left on the EMO as Musa scores . . . had to listen to the announcer for that
And then we get the final minute
Each team had a possession and Chaloux makes a marvelous split dodge in the middle, gets to the front and . . .
I could not tell if the save was made or he missed the net . . .
And with about 25 seconds left Boca gets the ball and sets up the clear, which looked fine until the outlet pass was dropped and when the Boca player went to pick up the ball . . . well, you know what happened from above . . .
And I think it was Gildea that scooped up the ground ball instead and headed down the left wing while the clocked ticked down. Chaloux headed to the net and camped out in front. the pass got through to him with two defenders trying to tie his stick up but he muscled it away and put home the winning shot from the crease with 8 seconds left to win the game.
At that moment, no one needed a cup of coffee.
Just maybe in a couple of days all of us in attendance (sorry Wells and Ernie, shouldn’t have left early!) can look back and remember the wonderful thrill ride we all went on that second half.
Maybe the off-field story didn’t really have too much to it this year like last year’s did, but boy did we make up for it on the field this year.
What a start to the playoff season.
Thank you all four teams!