thanks to Ted Swoboda for the pictures and Wells Dusenbury for the film clip
The lacrosse Gods are fickle.
After a season of less than exciting finishes they decided it was time for a change.
Zeus hurled a couple of thunderbolts the last few days . . . in the form of two of the greatest lacrosse games you will ever see.
Friday night we all know about.
And last night he topped his first effort, as if he felt he needed to.
Heck, I could claim he threw more than one last night . . . one in the first half, one in the third quarter and one for the fourth and the OT.
And all in attendance now have a memory that will probably never be forgotten.
The Winning Goal.
Sports writing can easily dive into well-worn cliches but sometimes the cliche uplifts too.
And one is so appropriate today . . . it’s a shame that there had to be a loser in this one.
For St, Thomas Aquinas, another chapter in the 2016 season titled The Redemption Tour . . . the continued modern lacrosse remake of Homer’s Odyssey if there were a sequel. The quest to finish last year’s march to that elusive state title.
Facing an upstart challenger no one thought would be staring at them from across the way.
The emotional change from facing the team that everyone wanted (if you are not a long time fan of the Florida lacrosse scene and are not familiar with the STA-SA rivalry in this sport then cram study it) to instead preparing for a team they beat early in the season. It had to be a different feel.
And when they took a 5-1 halftime lead, albeit it because Oxbridge failed to convert a number of great opportunities in the half, the mood in the stadium was one of ‘okay, we are in familiar territory’.
But the Gods abhor hubris above all else . . .
And when the Oxbridge kids got rolling in the 3rd it was Sisyphus in reverse.
And fighting back became Herculean.
As did keeping your composure in the stands while watching the fourth and OT.
And then we can remember that other frequent cliche . . . a star player making a star play to win a game.
But unlike other times that could be more than one. And last night it was.
For Oxbridge, the end of the first chapter in what will be a weighty tome.
Early in the year the story was simple.
A large class of seniors who grew up together in the program. Everything falling in place . . . with one big question to be answered.
And it was answered in the affirmative. Just ask Jupiter. Just ask SA. And now just ask STA.
That won’t make it easier for them today.
The seniors have shown the way but they won’t have a chance to finish the job of program building. The foundation they have laid for their successors is wide and deep. And one day when the program lifts its’ own FHSAA title the entire program will need to look back at March 8th, 2016 and remember it for what it was.
Early in the year this was a senior dominated team, but now it is a program with depth in all classes.
That 3rd quarter doesn’t happen last year. Dominant. 5 separate goal scorers. Held the hi-powered STA offense to 2 shots on goals.
And in the 4th, it was a toe-to-toe slugfest with neither blinking.
But as always, sports Gods face a tough choice in who to bless and this time they are giving their opponent the nod.
As if to say ‘we need to see a little bit more but the other guy has been working at this a little longer than you have and it’s their time’.
A good author leaves you wanting to open the next chapter or start the next book.
The Oxbridge book’s next chapter will be well worth reading.
The game itself really was three parts.
The gradual gaining of the lead by STA in the first half as they finished their chances better, even as Oxbridge goalie Ethan Randell made 10 first half saves, many spectacular (the Randell-Tomei tandem the last four days was a story in itself).
The dominant Oxbridge third quarter.
The Thrilla in Manila (Rave in Davie?) down the stretch where each took turns staggering the other.
And the grand finale.
The first quarter was a battle of the goalies as both teams got great looks, only to be turned away. It took an EMO opportunity (STA’s 3 for 3 in the first half was another major component in the win) with 5:55 left to make it 1-0 STA. Kevin Crowley found Jimmy Harrington on the lower left wing from the upper wing and his right hand found the mid right side and that was it for the first. STA goalie Michael Adler and Randell combined for 7 saves in the quarter.
Just 26 seconds into the second it was 2-0 on the second EMO, as Crowley and Harrington combined for basically the same play. Randell made a number of saves from then until STA was able to break through. At 6:56 Louie Yovino went down the left alley and was able to go low between Randell’s legs for the 3-0 lead. One interesting thing about that is that Yovino got off a lot of shots as Oxbridge worked hard to take away the cross field feeds that were so successful all season and the only two low ones he shot were two of his three goals. One strategic change was that Oxbridge changed off on him as Braedon Rupp was matched up a lot with him. Rupp played a very smart game by not letting Yovino get behind him.
At 4:55 it was 4-0 on another EMO as Sam Khalil found Joey Guglielmo from behind right to the top left and his step down hit the high short side. Oxbridge ended their drought with 3:15 left as Jack Kilian took advantage of a scramble in front of Adler to win the groundball and finish low from in front but 35 seconds later Yovino got that one back as he took the Chris Stefans feed from the left wing as he cut in from the middle and he hit the high short side on the run to make it 5-1 at the half.
Even at 5-1 it looked like Oxbridge was not out of it as they had success getting the looks, they just didn’t finish. And it didn’t take long for them to turn the game around.
At 10:11 Tyler Jerd took the J. Kilian feed on the right wing and fired home to the top short side, a very similar way he scored against SA. Less than two minutes later it was Connor Davies taking a feed behind the net and getting to the front for the low right hand shot and it was 5-3. After some possession changes the lead went to 5-4 with 2:27 left as J. Kilian dodged from the left wing to the middle and his right hand hit the low right. The ensuing faceoff saw Austin Roca win a battle and take off down the right alley, beating his defender, and his top left corner shot tied it at 2:17. With 54 seconds left Oxbridge completed the quarter as Bobby Kilian found Zach Ranta on the left wing from up top and Ranta’s right hand hit the low right side and Oxbridge’s fan section was experiencing a familiar feeling.
After a good chance to extend the lead was stopped STA tied the game up at 9:37 as Yovino was able to find Harrington sneaking out from left behind and his crease feed found him for the easy one timer. Two minutes later STA took back the lead as Crowley went down the left alley and he was able to place a bounce shot just inside the far side to 7-6. At 5:25 Oxbridge came back as Jerd and Ranta teamed up and Jerd again found the top short side to tie it at 7.
White knuckle time all around.
At 3:16 Yovino found himself off the right wing and was able to wind up for a low bullet that skipped between Randell’s legs (I’ve got to believe he was thinking high by that time) for the go ahead goal.
But after some intense loose ball play behind the STA net Davies found B. Kilian in front of Adler and after a heck of a catch he finished low to the right side with 1:24 left. STA won the ensuing faceoff and tried to set up for the winner but the Oxbridge defense held beautifully and no real shot attempt got off.
No need for nail clippers at that point. Everyone in the large crowd on their edge.
Except Wells and I. We were having the time of our lives watching. Well, OT does hurt with his deadline . . .
The OT faceoff was won by Oxbridge, as Terrell Seabrooks scooped it up on the wing and Coach Ross called time. A lengthy possession ensued but the shot from up top by Ranta was blocked and the fast break went the other way. A feed to what I think was Harrington was stoned again by Randell and a successful clear was waived off for a procedure call and STA called time to set themselves up.
The game winner came with 1:44 left in OT as Crowley was able to get half a step down the right alley and his short side low shot beat Randell, as seen here.
What an ending to a great five days of lacrosse.
And what a great entry into the Final Eight.
For the Oxbridge kids, thanks for this wonderful ride. In a way this marks the end of my first chapter writing here too. In my first season I got to cover you as freshmen at then Pope John Paul and it feels like my growth here mirrors yours. After the Jupiter game I went onto the field and Coach Ross’ dad was the first person I talked to and he reminded me about something I said that year after that game, something I had pretty much forgotten. Kinda brought home the point. I’ve known the Ranta family for quite awhile and they’ve always been supportive of the site. Kelly Hayek is very vocal on Facebook. So many others in the Oxbridge family that are so appreciative. I wish all the kids great success in college and the future and thanks for the memories!
As for St. Thomas, whether I call it the Odyssey, or Quixote’s Glorious Quest, the next step is Saturday at Gulliver Prep. Can they finally write their own final chapter?
Faceoffs: STA 13-9 (pretty much all of them were a battle, almost no clean wins – wing play at its’ grittiest)
Shots: STA 47-32
Shots on Goal: STA 25-18
Turnovers: OA 13-9
Penalties: OA 4-1
Louie Yovino 3G/1A
Jimmy Harrington 3G
Kevin Crowley 2G/2A
Joey Guglielmo 1G
Sam Khalil and Chris Stefans 1A each
Michael Adler with 10 saves
Jack Kilian 2G/1A
Tyler Jerd 2G
Zach Ranta, Bobby Kilian and Connor Davies 1G/1A
Austin Roca 1G
Ethan Randell with 16 saves
Thanks to Coach Crowley and Coach Ross for talking to me before and after the game!
For another perspective, here is Wells’ write up in the Sun-Sentinel: