Thoughts on Day One of the Final Four
Saint Andrew’s 11-3 over Jesuit
Benjamin 13-5 over Bolles
St.Thomas 12-10 over Plant
Ponte Vedra 13-11 over Winter Park
Two comfortable wins, one fourth quarter comeback that fell short and a wonderful nightcap . . .
After the PV game, I spoke to HC Chris Polanski and he made an interesting observation about Final Four experience and nerves going into it. We had no 2020 final and a first-time for the two classes last year, so there is not as much experience with handling pressure that we possible assume. It’s only natural to feel some nerves going into any Final Four setting,
I’m bringing this up because there’s been a tendency over the years for some bigger gaps in score in semifinals, but not in finals. Part of that is the two teams that got to the finals overcame the pressure of the semifinals, but it isn’t the whole story. The other part is that these are kids, and sometimes they don’t settle into a game like they would if the same matchup was in the regular season. And that makes coming back from an early deficit tougher than in the regular season. There’s a finality to the Final Four that is not there in the regular season, at least emotionally.
It’s only natural.
St. Andrew’s and Jesuit came out in Game One and went back and forth for about 9 minutes. Jesuit got some good looks in their first three possessions, but didn’t capitalize, while SA was able to get one in rhythm, with their motion offense. Then SA was able to put up three goals in less than two minutes to end the first and Jesuit’s offense was clamped down, with Jesuit not getting inside. Another three-goal burst in the 2nd made it 7-0 at the half, and SA had killed off a number of penalties, which had to frustrate the Jesuit offense.
The second half was mostly game-management for the Scots, and their physical side certainly came out too. A rare 6-3 to start the fourth quarter was thwarted by the Scots and it became a matter of time at that point.
Jesuit’s kids had a great season, but the schedule was weaker than it looked on paper to start the season, and that didn’t help. The program is solid and will be back in the future.
Benjamin took advantage of faceoff dominance and an excellent ball possession game to grind out a win in a game where their volume shooting was able to kick in. It got to the point where Bolles had to choose to defend against a faceoff transition approach.
When Bolles had the ball, they caused the Benjamin defense heartburn. But possession was too rare yesterday. Junior Spencer Surface is one that caught my eye.
Bolles was a returning team this year and the program is in good hands, as they seek to evolve into a team that wants to challenge for a title. Making the Final Four in a transition year is a great accomplishment, so congrats to the program and the kids.
What else can be said than the Southeast is not ready to hand over their dominance recently unless the other regions can take it from them. SA-St. Edward’s last year and SA-Benjamin this year is not random; the other region’s are closing the gap, but they are not there yet.
The final between these two might well turn on SA’s depth versus Benjamin’s offensive prowess. Unlike so many Final Four matchups, Benjamin has already seen SA’s tough zone approach; it should be a true chess match with a lot of physical play mixed in.
St. Thomas won the battle with Plant in the first half by taking advantage of their quickness against an athletic defense that had trouble with inverted isolations from STA’s middies in particular. That built a lead that was carried into the fourth quarter, where the Raiders led 12-4.
At that point Plant just let everything go, and remarkably it worked well. The sloppiness that hurt them early (dropped passes, etc.) turned into daring dashes to goal, and STA contributing with their own sloppiness (7 turnovers and 4 penalties), and that allowed Plant to go on a 6-0 run in the fourth that was really only stopped by the clock, as Plant outshot STA 14-1 in the quarter. Wade Lamon saved 5 of the 11 that hit the net, and it was a good thing he did.
I can’t say enough about what Turner Ashby did in the 4th quarter, and he’s still got one year left for the state to watch his incredible skills.
St. Thomas is a team that has so many options on offense, and the flexibility in how they can attack makes them a worthy opponent for whoever was going to win the nightcap.
And what a nightcap it was . . .
Winter Park was a wild card for me, as this was the first time I’ve seen them in person, and I was IMPRESSED. Matched against a high end team, losing 20 of the 26 faceoffs, they battled Ponte Vedra all game long, and if it wasn’t for a 4-goal run by PV in the fourth quarter, they could be playing for the title just like they did last year.
Junior Bronson Dowdell is going to torture defenses next year; he’s a clone of former SA star Davis Diamond in my opinion, with a little more physicality. And junior Griffin Moore is right behind him. No reason to not think WP will be back next year for a third swing at the golden ring.
Ponte Vedra’s Clements Harper was a difference maker last night at the faceoff dot, and how STA game plans him will be a true gane-within-a-game.
What was impressive about PV’s late run was it came from 4 different goal scorers, and it provides a conundrum for how the STA defense will approach assigning poles. Nolan Parlette in goal is battled tested, as seen in how he responded after the last-second bounce shot that eluded him to end the first half.
These two finals will be potentially EPIC games, get over to Paradise and see them in person Saturday!
Speaking of which, I still want to say “Be it resolved, this location needs to be the permanent home of the Final Four” . . . nothing from yesterday made me change my mind.
Can’t wait for how today unwinds!
If you want to see how FLN’s predictions performed, as well as see interim updates during the day, check out VarsitySportsNetwork,org and click on the SW Florida channel on the home page!