It’s a Great Day to Play Two!

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Ernie Banks, Hall of Fame baseball player and all-around great ambassador for baseball, probably wanted to put this on his gravestone. A catchphrase before we called it that.

Unfortunately, almost all baseball doubleheaders today are due to making up a rain out, they’re rarely scheduled.

But our sport has picked up the mantle.

#1 vs #3 and #1 vs #3

That’s pretty good.

Every year I try to put myself in the place of a fan for one night, if only to have a chance to write something just a little bit different from my normal game recap. This night seemed like a pretty good one to do so.

We’re about halfway through many school’s schedules, so we have a good feeling of who’s real and who’s a little below. The defending state champs in 1A Boys and 1A Girls came calling to their regional rivals from last year, with an even bigger meaning, because now one of the games featured DISTRICT rivals. One could say it was ‘seeing the whites of their eyes’ moments. The clarion call of the trumpets. Or Act One of the play, if that is your taste.

In all likelihood, the Girls will be meeting as regional finalists as well. #1 seed and #2 seed. So, while important for setting a tone, and likely settling home-field for that final, the fact is that there will likely be an Act Two (or even possibly 3 for the Boys).

So regardless of who won last night, it settled very little and how the games played out were the prelude, not the ending.

But that didn’t mean the kids thought of it that way.

So we had a ‘full hearts, clear minds . . .’, you know the rest . . .

***

You could tell there was excitement in the air. I don’t ever remember having such difficulty getting into the parking lot next to the field, and others had to park in the garage. 20 minutes to make the last light and having to U-turn in the garage when every other time it was a K-turn 10 yards into the drive. Plenty of cars were violating the No U-turn sign at the main entrance.

Sometimes I’m too rule-driven.

But I did grab a good spot, headed out to the field and strode onto the field. Pine Crest HC Eileen Pliske was running a warmup, groundball drill. Got one question in about injuries. Head colds don’t count. Wandered over to AH-Delray HC John McClain, running an offensive zone pre-game warmup and got a very different answer. It was Peyton Place for him as both Peyton Bezjak and Peyton Wainman were injured and not available. That’s a pretty good tandem and no matter how much you have in reserve they would be missed.

Pine Crest is a wonderful place to watch a game from. Stands are near the field and run most of the length of the field, similar to the new Naples Final Four facility. The press box is comfortable and filming above it gives great sight lines. A nice new touch is the new scoreboard. Clean, clear and highlight-abled. Even the sounds of the train tracks behind the stands added to the atmosphere. Add some food concession and it would be even better.

There was a very nice crowd, and they were energized right from the start. As were the Girls on the sidelines . . . I don’t know if there is a strategic difference, but the ‘pitch’ of the sideline cheering certainly differs from a Boys game, which tends to be more focused on the other team and verbally-based. I didn’t ask the coaches about coping with it, they are certainly use to it by now.

Pine Crest got off to the early lead after nearly a 2-minute possession, but just 14 seconds later it was 2-2 . . . that’s pretty rare for the Girls game. In the booth we discussed the possibility that we were on pace for about a 60-goal day, which of course was absurd . . . until goal 5 was scored 8 seconds later. 4 goals in 22 seconds.

Soccer fans were getting jealous.

The game went back and forth until PC pulled within 8-6 with 6:30 to go in the first half.

And then the roof fell in for the home team, as they went scoreless for 20 minutes as AH-Delray’s offense put on a clinic. This is one of those rare games I didn’t worry about tallying draws, shot attempts, shots on goal or turnovers. AH-Delray did have to deal with three yellow cards, but it was not an impediment. Their offense was just that good.

Readers know I am relatively new to writing about the Girls game, so these impressions are based on what I see in real time, not from video.

When I’m watching the AH-Delray offense, it looks to me to be a hybrid-style, not dissimilar to Saint Andrew’s on the Boys side. Take advantage of their speed on transition and their intelligence in the settled situation. I always found it a little odd that the Girls play 7 on 7 inside the restraining area, which is basically one-third of the field while the Boys play 6 on 6 on half the field. Whether this is designed to slow the play down for the Girls I have no idea about. Throw in the 8-meter arc and the 12-meter ‘fan’ and the confusion for the casual fan is real. The ‘three-second rule’ for defenses also seems like a very important facet of how an offense is run within the restraining line.

Last year I covered this game when it was played as a Regional Final at Cardinal Gibbons, and the backstory of the McClain household held a special significance. For those without knowledge, Coach McClain’s daughter, Taylor, a star D1 commit, played for Pine Crest. As John noted to me that day, a) it was a difficult week in the household and b) he was glad that it was finally over in coaching against his daughter.

Makes lying to my son about being allergic to cats so he wouldn’t get one as child’s play . . .

Many of us remember the core group of players who originally put AH-Delray on the map, but there doesn’t seem to be much falloff from then.

Maybe a little different focus on transition, but that could just be me projecting.

What is so fun to watch with the Stallions is how they handle the 7 on 7. Northwestern-bound Carli Fleischer came over from Stoneman and she was the main playmaker behind the net, and she teamed with Caroline Byrd to find open looks during that 20-minute run. Behind the net to the back post cutter was similar to SA’s right of the net GLE to the middie cutting. It’s the crane kick of offense, as Mr. Miyagi would say . . . “if done right, you can’t defend it”.

I don’t remember one time it failed.

And with 15 minutes left in the game it was 16-6. The scary thing was that Pine Crest didn’t play badly, AH-Delray just executed . . . and executed . . . and executed. LHP scored six goals against AH-D, PC scored 9. And PC’s goals were earned, they weren’t from sloppy AH-D play. They certainly are worthy of where I ranked them.

The two teams are likely on a collision course again in what will likely be the regional final again; there will be a lot less tension in the McClain household that week. But I doubt you’ll see him or his team breathe easy until about May 10th.

One item I noticed afterwards was that AH-Delray has St. Paul’s on their schedule next week . . . Hmm, now the MIAA is traveling south on the Girl’s side too . . . not to a neutral site. Who did St. Paul’s last play and beat? McDonogh. Hmm . . .

***

On to game two, the District game between PC and Saint Andrew’s. It became a district game because the FHSAA moved SA out of the same district as Oxbridge and SJP. With at-large bids that isn’t as important. What was important to me was to see if Pine Crest had found a way to catch up with a Scots’ team that had handled them 9-3 and 9-4 last season. It’s one way I judge Poll positioning.

The atmosphere was even more charged in the stands and on the field. A little trash talking between the benches early. Pine Crest also jumped out early to take the lead and then the teams traded goals back and forth, with PC holding a 3-2 lead after the first.

PC’s Jordan Faison scored all 3 of PC’s first quarter goals and it got me thinking about his future at Notre Dame. It seems like a lot of college lacrosse has focused on finding roles for players. I see Fleming Island’s Eric Dobson in South Bend playing first line midfield, but a lot of the approach to using him focuses on finding step-down situations for him to unleash his potent shot; it’s pretty rare you see him dodging an alley. Contrast that to his ND teammate, Carter Parlette, the Ponte Vedra ‘jack of all trades’ midfielder who doesn’t yet get a lot of time. Or look at a personal favorite of mine, Jack Kilian, the Oxbridge midfielder, who did everything well, but not spectacularly. He gets time at Providence but is not a featured offensive player.

When you look back at Florida kids who made a difference, say ten years ago, two that come to mind are LHP’s Devon Lewis at Georgetown and SA’s Lee Coppersmith at JHU. Both produced nice offensive numbers and had similar skill sets. Their college coaches found a way to take advantage of one of those, as pure goal scorers.

Coppersmith was used as a downhill dodger from up top and was a great change of pace option for the Blue Jays, so he was given that role (anyone who attended SA games back then knew it was his bread and butter). His ‘coming out’ party was a hat trick in 2011 against Virginia. All three were split dodges from up top and left-hand bullets. In 2012, that same type of play scored the game-tying goal in the last minute against #1 Virginia, helping them to an OT win.

Looking at how Faison plays right now, he reminds me a lot of Coppersmith and I think he will find a role as that change of pace for the Irish. Not necessarily in the same spot, as you don’t really see D1 defenses allowing someone high up top to be isolated enough to give the split dodge up; they force the carrier to the alley more. His first step is so tough to defend, and he doesn’t have to wind up, so he could be more of a wing dodger to the middle for the same type of shot that Coppersmith was successful with.

Time will tell if I’m a visionary or a moron, but hopefully readers will have short memories if it’s the latter . . .

SA came back in the 2nd quarter with a 4-0 run, in 3:45, in the second half of the quarter. Cole Hofbauer and Kurt Schwarz scored all four goals. All four showcased a different approach. The first one was a fortuitous bounce to a wide-open Schwarz on the right crease; a goal only scored because he kept his spacing discipline while the ball carrier was checked. Another was a dodge from the wing to the middle, a third was an individual effort on an alley dodge and the fourth was the Brady to Edelson play discussed above.

There’s a little of the old Soviet Red Army hockey feel to playing the Scots; the run can come at any time, and you have to fight against it.

Which PC did, responding with the only two goals of the third quarter to bring the game back to one going into the fourth, as Nigel Vital came up big, along with Jordan’s brother Dylan. Dylan looks like a very different player to Jordan, he’s more of a spot-up shooter for now and it complements the PC offense well. Dodge, draw the slide and dish to Dylan works well coming from Nigel or Jordan, or anyone else as well.

But then there’s the other thing SA opponents have to deal with, and that’s when Sean Jordan decides he needs to make a play.

If you were there on Tuesday and blinked during the first four seconds of the fourth quarter, you missed it. I’m still waiting on the clip but to me it looked like a) quick pop of the faceoff to the left . . . b) three players go for it . . . c) a long stick swoops in and the ball is won . . . and d) three seconds later a left-hand ICBM pings the top right corner from at least 15 yards (more likely 20 if you take the angle into account).

In four seconds of game time on the clock.

Kind of like a lightning bolt on a clear night . . . where did that come from? By the way, drew a penalty on the play too . . .

Eight seconds later the EMO produced another goal on a rebound off the right crease. Predatory.

Fortuitous, predatory, whatever. Game, set, match if you prefer.

10-5 final.

What Pine Crest can take away from the game is that the margin narrowed, and it was a one-goal game after 36 minutes . . . but back to the drawing board to find that last 12 minutes.

They’re not far off, a little here and there, a few more better looks, a fortunate bounce or two . . . you never know. I received a text the other day about the making of a mini-documentary of the 1978 NCAA D3 championship game and the winning goal. I saw that one from the stands, as Roanoke used a trick play in the last minute to beat the Statesmen 14-13. Never say never in this sport. Hobart was a big favorite going into that game. Also in 1978, in D1, a similar story as a prohibitive favorite Cornell, whose senior class NEVER LOST A GAME until this one, lost to JHU . . . if you have Chris Kane reffing your game down here, don’t ask him about the memory.

This season, besides finally feeling normal, also is quite exciting.

Sometimes I just like to be a fan . . . Tuesday was a great day to be one.