This is the final in a short series of game recaps we wrote in 2014 for the Final Four in Bradenton. Since we have the same semifinal matchups we thought it would be fun to re-run the coverage from then!
The finalists got there with LHP defeating Ponte Vedra and Benjamin taking down St. Thomas by the same score of 14-9.
Hope you enjoy our look back as written with my championship game recap!
There’s no doubt now.
There’s a new alpha dog in Florida lacrosse and it resides in Orlando.
In front of family and students Lake Highland Prep pulled away from Benjamin and gradually wore down their final’s opponent for a convincing 9-2 victory last night at IMG Academy.
LHP found a way defensively to take away Benjamin’s best offensive weapons and when LHP senior goalie Adam Sawicki came up big in the first half the game turned decisively in LHP’s favor. Reid Thedford scored all three of his goals in the first half to stake LHP to a 4-2 lead and then the Highlander’s attack kicked in during the second half and a game Benjamin team was gradually worn down. Nothing highlighted this performance more than the fact LHP held Benjamin without a shot in the fourth quarter as they took time off the clock. The field conditions played a small role in the first half as players on both sides were slipping after a small amount of rain hit before the game but the kids were able to adjust to it in the second half.
But make no mistake about it, LHP won this game because they were deeper, bigger and able to play their game more than Benjamin was able to play theirs.
LHP came into the game off a semifinal win over Ponte Vedra and the formula they used to win that game was repeated. Controlling faceoffs via Syracuse-bound Max Parker, stout defensive play led by Griff Caligiuri, who shut down Benjamin star Andrew Packer and a tough man-to-man defense that kept Benjamin from finding open looks inside the defense was combined with an opportunistic offense that was balanced more than it had been earlier in the season. LHP’s middies were able to take advantage at times and converted in a fashion familiar to those who were able to watch them this season while those who watched Benjamin this season were surprised by how little they could create after the first quarter.
Another major factor in the game was the ground balls. Both teams were strong on them this season and the ability to scrap for 50/50 balls was a huge factor for Benjamin down the stretch and into the playoffs and in the first quarter they utilized those wins to get off 11 shots to LHP’s 3, but as the game wore on the ground ball battle turned around and LHP took control in the second half. Again, another statistic that showed how the game played out and the importance of the size and health of LHP.
Benjamin has jumped out to big leads in a number of their second half games and that let them play more possession later in games, although there were also games where it was tough to keep that lead. By not taking advantage of those chances in the first quarter Benjamin found themselves having to work harder throughout the game and that also factored into their wearing down.
The game started off with Benjamin taking the early lead about 6 minutes in as Jeremy Stauffer scored on the EMO, taking Colin O’Hare’s behind the net feed up top and firing a long low, right-handed shot past Sawicki at 6:19. Benjamin kept winning possessions but Sawicki proved stout and with 1:59 left Thedford worked his way out from behind the left side and on the left wing fired a screen shot low while falling, beating Benjamin goalie Anthony Cicio and the game was tied at 1 after the first.
Feeling energized by the late goal Thedford put LHP in front less than a minute into the second, unassisted, as he dodged to the middle from the left wing and when his defender slipped he was able to fire one past Cicio waist-high on the short side to make it 2-1. At 9:59 Don Eidson took Kyle Richbourg’s pass up on the right wing from the lower wing and he got off a step down shot to the lower left corner to stretch it out to 3-1. Then with only 1:58 left in the quarter Thedford completed his hat trick, unassisted, working from right goal line extended up the wing before spinning to the right and beating Cicio between the legs and it was 4-1. Christian Cropp got one back for Benjamin at 1:01, unassisted, as he utilized a spin dodge from the left wing, hitting the net on the low far side and we went to halftime with LHP leading 4-2.
Although the score was only a two-goal lead it was clear that LHP was starting to exert their will on the game and the third quarter clearly showed that.
At 8:22 Conner Aniello took a Thedford pass and made it 5-2 on the EMO. Thedford found Aniello all alone on the right crease from left GLE and Aniello patiently waited for his opening and found the net on the high side. The teams settled down and traded possessions but with less then 3 minutes to go LHP went on the decisive run of the game, scoring three more times before the end of the period to basically put the game away. At 2:28, Aniello took advantage of a 3 on 2 fast break as Richbourg found him all alone on the right side and he had time to move towards the front, finding the net with the left hand for 6-2. Will Wolfson then converted unassisted at 1:23, with his specialty, a right-wing to middle dodge, finishing with the left hand low to the corner, for 7-2 and with 18 seconds left Richbourg curled out from the left side of the net and went right-hand high to take the game to the fourth at 8-2.
With 8:21 left in the game Jackson Colling added the final tally, off an Aniello right GLE feed on the EMO, finishing from the right wing, making the final 9-2.
For LHP, successfully defending their crown for the first time. I mentioned last year on the final podcast that a championship this year would cement Coach Spaulding’s ranking as the top coach in the state and this serves as his coronation. The team will lose some key pieces but they did that too last season so they are not going away anytime soon. But those losses include Max Parker, who is not getting replaced so easily, Goalie Sawicki, Wolfson, and starting long poles Christian Englehart and Dylan Farwell. Injured starter Ben Prizer also graduates. However, there is still plenty left in the cupboard as Richbourg, Aniello, Thedford, Colling, Eidson and Caligiuri are the main returning starters so if Coach Spaulding plugs in for FOGO and goalie they can make their run at a three-peat.
For Benjamin, one more step closer to their final goal. Last year a semi-final loss and this year a loss in the finals. For Coach Rye some transition as well, as Anthony Cicio and the entire starting long poles of Jerry O’Connor, John Dorsett and Danny Borsilow move on, as well as McKenna Johnston and a few others. Bobby O’Leary, Andrew Packer, Will Nicklaus, etc., will return to bolster Benjamin’s hopes for the season to come.
For the seniors of both teams we at FLN look forward to watching those of you who are going to play at the next level and wish all of you success in whatever you decide to pursue! And thank you for the memories and thrills you’ve given all of us in the lacrosse community. And maybe one day we might even be celebrating one of you winning a Nobel Prize in Biology . . .
For the writers and photographers here at FLN we thank all of our readers and contributors for helping us bring you what was clearly the best season of high school lacrosse the state has ever experienced.
And remember, there’s only about 246 days left until the start of the 2015 season! Start the countdown clocks tomorrow!
Faceoffs: LHP 12-4
Shots: LHp 24 – Benjamin 18
Shots on Goal: 11 each
Turnovers: 20 each
Penalties: Benjamin 5 – LHP 3
Reid Thedford 3G/1A
Connor Aniello 2G/1A
Kyle Richbourg 1G/2A
Jackson Colling, Will Wolfson and Don Eidson 1G each
Jeremy Stauffer and Christian Cropp 1G each
Colin O’Hare 1A
Adam Sawicki made 9 saves for LHP and Anthony Cicio made 2 saves for LHP
Thanks to Coaches Spaulding and Rye for spending time with me before and after the games of the weekend and thanks to the FHSAA for putting on the event and to IMG for hosting us.