Thoughts on Day Two of the Final Four

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American Heritage-Delray 20 – Naples 8

Lake Highland Prep 14 – Episcopal School of Jacksonville 4

Vero Beach 7 – St.Thomas Aquinas 6

Bartram Trail 5 – Steinbrenner 4

The second day turned to the Girls’ semifinals and we had two comfortable wins and two incredibly pressure-packed nailbiters.

Naples, led by a young lady I had not known much about, Lane Calkins, gave AH-D fits in the first half on defense, as the Stallions and Golden Eagles managed to combine for 21 goals in ONE HALF, just one less than the 4 2A schools COMBINED for. We had remarked that Naples had the element of speed, a trait needed to combat AH-D’s full field pressure, and that held true for the first half, but it took a toll and AH-D’s early second-half blitz led to a 7-0 second half to put the game away.

Casey Roberts put up 5G/4A to lead the AH-D scoring and a whole host of others chipped in. Calkins had 3G in the loss and Georgia Kent chipped in 2. I’m looking forward to seeing how the Southwest/Tampa region continues to build on their Girls scene, as Out-of-Door, St. Stephen’s and Naples all had terrific seasons in 1A.

The expected final matchup between AH-D and Lake Highland will occur today, after LHP’s comfortable win over Episcopal School, following up the regular season win. Unfortunately, after LHP had jumped quickly to a 3-0 lead, ESJ’s star Sofia Chepenik, after breaking the ice for the Eagles, landed badly and clearly injured herself. She managed to play through it but it clearly minimized what she could do from that point forward.

LHP was able to get out to the 8-1 halftime advantage, but after scoring the first goal for a 9-1 second half lead, ESJ went on their only run to make it 9-4, on two goals by Keeley Cleland and one by Chepenik, but that was it, as LHP scored the next 5 goals, and ran off most of the final ten minutes of the clock to seal the 14-4 win. Casey Richbourg led the Highlanders with 4G/1A (fun note-Casey’s dad Scott, and my brother Matt, were business colleagues in NYC years ago) and she was joined by Jacqueline Jaskiewicz with 2G/4A and Izzy Hughes with 3G/1A.

So, here we go again . . . AH-D and LHP in their third straight matchup in the Final Four, and the second straight in the final, for the 1A title game. You can count on seeing a few new wrinkles from each side after AH-D won their regular season game.

We were all anticipating the 2A semifinals and they did not disappoint. Those who did not see the games in person or on the NFHS broadcast might want to set a night at home over the summer and bring in the pizza and have a watch party (okay, bite the bullet and subscribe to NFHS for a month if you have to . . .) for these two games.

Vero Beach and St. Thomas played a 10-8 regular season game that VB won and STA had defeated them in last year’s final; a game that saw Vero have to play without star goalie Joy Coffee, injured in the semifinal win over Bartram Trail. Vero jumped out to a 5-goal lead after 15 minutes, and the teams traded goals to make it 7-2 at the half. Kerrigan Gilmore with 2G and five other goal scorers.

And remarkably, that was it for Vero, as STA’s defense clamped down and the Raider offense chipped away and drew within 7-6 with 14:45 to go.

But that was it, as both teams went back and forth in a thriller last half. Anyone who thinks a low-scoring game isn’t exciting . . . get a clue!

One facet of this game I loved was (as I’ve noted in the past, the game within a game) how Vero’s Alexa Vega and STA’s Ava Yovino went at it. I thought Yovino played one of the best all-around halves of lacrosse I’ve seen on the Girls side. Although the scorebook will only show one assist, she controlled tempo in transition and kept her team focused on not trying to rush things, while also stripping the ball defensively multiple times when possession was needed. Vega was a substantial part of Vero’s clearing game, and has all the tools you want to see.

The last two minutes was frenetic and with a little controversy on how the clock ran, but in the end, it was still a remarkable game that highlighted how hard it is to win this championship.

And then the night cap managed to excite just as much, as Bartram Trail and Steinbrenner basically produced the same exact formula, and even improved on it a little. If you have leftovers in the summer after watching VB-STA, just re-heat them for the next night and pop this one up on the screen. Don’t try to watch them back to back, it will be too exhausting.

The back story going into this one was two tales of Final Four redemption. Steinbrenner looking to overcome last year’s unreal disappointment of a one-goal semifinal loss to STA and Bartram’s loss to Vero after star player Ryann Frechette went down two days before their game.

They traded goals in the first 9 minutes only to see BT go on a 4-goal rally in 4 minutes to take the 5-1 lead. GSHS pulled one back before halftime.

And just like the previous game, that was it for the winning team! Steinbrenner pulled back to 5-4 with a little over 14 minutes to go and we went back and forth, with BT’s defense under siege by GS’s high powered offense, as Kate Prentice and Cienna Solis led the way, and the defense, assisted by a number of Maddie Stevens’ saves, held off the Warriors for a 5-4 final.

Two winning teams, BOTH shut out in the second half. No one has seen that before and we may never see it again.

One thing I can say for certain is that the number of people who saw these games in person will be dwarfed by those who wished they had . . . and dwarfed even further by those who will claim they were there.

We said on the VSN preview that we were looking forward to the 2A Girls the most, and that certainly was prescient.

Today will be FAN-TASTIC.