Boca Moves On To The Finals: Boca Raton 11 – Pope John Paul II 7

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Readers of these game reviews know that sometimes I look outside the norm for themes that tie into a game I’ve witnessed.  Of all the games played the last two nights in the first round of the District playoffs this one was clearly the most intriguing going into it.  Besides the fact it was two Top 15 teams in the state it was also so interesting on many levels. Throw in the fact that one of these teams was going home so soon; throw in the fact that these two teams are maybe one mile apart geographically; throw in the fact that so many of these kids have played together and against each other for much of their lacrosse-playing lives in the summer; throw in the fact that you have one coach who has pointed for this year for a long time and one coach who turned his team’s culture around in a short tenure . . . and you have the formula for something special.

And for some reason last night, after the game was over and the emotions of the kids and coaches broke through the dike with enormous force, with the requisite emotion belonging to the side you were on, an old film came to mind that seemed to once again give credence to that old saying about ‘life imitating art’.  And given that we had a public high school and a private, religious high school playing such an emotional game it seems fit to bring up the movie titled ‘The Agony And The Ecstasy’.

For last night that work of art played out on the lacrosse field . . .



For those who are not familiar with it (and I’m assuming that since the movie was released in 1965 it isn’t fresh in most minds, including mine) a brief recap is in order.  The film is based on an Irving Stone novel that fictionalizes the conflicts of Michelangelo and Pope Julius II during the painting of the Sistine Chapel’s ceilings.  To many (well, probably almost all) readers this would seem like an unusual comparison but I see it as such a similar story line to last night’s game that it made sense to me.  The movie talks about all the external forces that conspired to make a fairly simple request of painting a ceiling to the desires of a Pope, but the trials and tribulations that crop up make that request difficult to achieve and longer to satisfy.

And that is exactly what played out last night.

This game had a simple end game to it.  Which team was going to move on and play for a chance at history?  These two high schools have had to contend with one indomitable fact this time of year . . . they are, and have been for so long, located in the same District as Saint Andrew’s.  Which means that neither of them have really played a meaningful game beyond Districts in many, if not all, of their kid’s lifetimes.

And in this, the mother of all lacrosse seasons, this almost-Sisyphean task might actually be in sight.  Boca has already defeated SA this season and Pope was just as confident they could do so if given the chance in the playoffs.  For the coaches, each in their own way has played the role of King Sisyphus.  For Coach Bolger, he is that unique figure in the lacrosse world down here;  a Hall of Famer already, but without the one final piece of his personal lacrosse bucket list.  For Coach Holly, a much shorter history with this but just as painful as those who saw last year’s District final could attest to.

For the kids, so many of whom have had their own dragon to slay in the Big Red monster.  For the seniors, wanting one last fling of the sling shot.

Even the weather G*ds threw a wrench into this.  A strong rain storm came racing through the area about an hour before the game, and those of us with the modern communications couldn’t agree whether we were just getting the tail end or a more resilient one.  At first the game was going to be called as the administrative officials and the game referees were in disagreement.  But after boarding the bus back to Boca High the game referees made the right call so the bus was recalled and the journey continued.  A fitting visual for the game to come.

It’s almost cruel that only one team was going to get its shot.  Sports can be very funny that way.  This isn’t the ‘give everyone a trophy’ world.  One team was going home with a feeling of ecstasy and one was going home with a feeling of agony.  Because the stakes were so high for a first-round District game . . .



Boca came out strong and confident and with a surprise twist as backup goalie Collin Pepper was pressed into action due to injury.  It’s often said that sometimes you just need a chance to prove yourself and Pepper came though big time. Pope dominated the face-offs in the first quarter and peppered (sorry, that’s the last time I’ll use that pun for the season . . .) the Boca netminder with 9 shots on goal in the first quarter.  Boca responded with six of their own and made the most of them.

Brad Singer opened the scoring in the first quarter at 10:24, scoring unassisted on a solo effort as he made his way from the left wing, then along goal line extended before getting to the front of the net and finishing right-handed to the far side of the net for 1-0.  Then at 8:01 Tripp Whitney took a crease feed from Parker Giarratana, as Parker fought off a double team on right GLE, and finished all alone in front for 2-0.  Singer continued the opening salvo at 4:54 as he dodged in from the left wing to the middle, faked a shot and took another step to get off a right-handed shot between Pope goalie Niko Morfogen’s legs to make it 3-0.

After a Pope timeout Johnny Hanlon got Pope on the board as he took Shawn Gildea’s left crease feed from behind the right side of GLE and he made no mistake and it was 3-1 at 4:18.  Just 46 seconds later Pope cut the lead further as Mikey Urso took another Gildea feed, this time as he was cutting down the middle and found the net to the low, left corner and it was 3-2.  Boca responded at 1:34 as Giarratana scored his first unassisted as he dodged from right GLE and placed it short side low with the left hand.  Just 20 seconds later Pope got that back as Hanlon one-timed a perfect cross-field feed from Chris Castellon at the right crease for 4-3 and the game was on.

In retrospect the game was decided in the second quarter which is a strange statement to make about a quarter that only saw one goal scored and one that finished with the game tied at 4-4 at halftime.  But Pope dominated the quarter with possession, getting off 10 shots to Boca’s 3.  Pepper came up big, allowing only one of the 10 attempts to get past him as Drew Minchew took a long outlet pass far out on the right wing and took off diagonally towards the middle of the field before firing a left-handed bullet against the grain and into the top right corner of the net with 4:56 left in the half.  It took a lot of effort for Pope to have finally tied it up that it had to take something out of them emotionally in the second half.  And that showed itself when Pope took 4 penalties in the third and allowed Boca the opportunity to cash in.

Which they did big time.  Taking a lead, spreading that lead out, and never being challenged afterwards.

At 10:16 of the third Boca regained the lead and the momentum as Whitney scored off Nick McCabe’s right crease feed from the left wing.  Whitney spun around and shot between the legs to make it 5-4.  At 8:54, on the EMO, Giarratana finished off unassisted as he took a pass on right GLE and scooted towards the front as the defender lost sight of the ball and he made no mistake with a low finish.  Then at at 5:36, again on EMO, McCabe took Singer’s high left wing feed lower down the wing and found the net with a bullet.  Boca’s run ended at 3:51 as Giarratana fortuitously picked up a loose ball on the left crease and was able to get off a low, left-hand shot for 8-4 and Boca had made their statement.  Pope was able to get one back before the quarter ended as Patrick Brower scored an EMO of his own as Gildea found him cutting down the middle, hitting Brower in stride from left GLE and he finished low to the left corner to make it 8-5 heading into the third.  This was a sloppy third quarter as the teams combined for only 10 attempts on goal while combining for 16 turnovers between them.  All 4 of Boca’s shots on goal found the net and that made the difference.


Boca Armstrong 414


The fourth showed Boca increasing the lead as Giarratana scored his fourth at 8:48, curling from behind the net on the right side and bouncing one between Morfogen’s legs with the left hand to make it 9-5.  Then at 4:43 as Pope was being frustrated offensively he repeated the effort with the same move and the game was basically put away at 10-5.  Pope did get one back just 18 seconds later as Minchew scored on EMO, dodging from left GLE to the middle and finding the upper right hand corner to make it 10-6.  The two teams then traded goals in the last 10 seconds as Justin Aman ripped from the left wing with 10 seconds to go for 11-6.

Mikey Urso then closed out his terrific career at Pope in a most fitting way, cleanly winning the face-off and coming right down the middle before firing home a low bullet to end the day.  Almost a going away present to his younger teammates about reminding them it was time for them to carry on the torch for the program that he was the face of for so many years.  Too bad Joey Giuffrida couldn’t have fed him for that one.

Thanks for the memories to the two of you!

It was a very emotional scene on the field after this one.  For Boca an almost volcanic relief afterwards as they saluted their crowd with jumps of joy at the game to come.  For Coach Bolger and his kids it was a long time for hugs and a decent amount of tears flowing.

That’s okay kids . . . in the movie the final scene ends with the Pope coming to grips with his own humanity as he is seeing his life coming to an end but he also finally understands what his partnership with Michelangelo actually accomplished.  When you look back at this game you will see just how much you and the Boca kids came together and the beautiful painting the two of you painted this year culminating in last night’s finale.

And on Thursday night we get to do it all over again, this time with a blank canvas . . .


Team Statistics


Faceoffs:  Pope 14-6

Shots:  Pope  38 – Boca  19

Shots on Goal:  Pope 24 – Boca 16

Turnovers:  Pope 20 – Boca 19

Penalties:  Boca 10 – Pope 7


Individual Statistics



Parker Giarratana  5G/1A  –  showing again that he is a big-game player

Brad Singer  2G/1A

Tripp Whitney  2G

Nick McCabe  1G/1A

Justin Aman  1A



Mikey Urso, Drew Minchew and Johnny Hanlon  2G each

Patrick Brower  1G

Shawn Gildea  3A

Chris Castellon  1A


Collin Pepper made 17 saves for Boca and Niko Morfogen made 5 saves for Pope


Thanks to Coaches Bolger and Holly for spending time with me before and after the game.  And best wishes to Pope’s senior class as they now take the next step in their lives!