Miami lacrosse. Ho hum? An afterthought? I guess you could have said that at one point about Orlando, Jacksonville, Tampa, and expanding a tad, Florida and every location which is not Canada (lacrosse is the national sport of Canada), Long Island, Upstate New York and Baltimore. A few were skipped, but you get the point. Miami’s lacrosse programs are on the rise and it will not be long (maybe even this year?) before a Miami team wins the state championship.
Most people will say lacrosse is a lot like other sports, so embracing that theme, allow me to make references to others and embellish a bit.
Ever wonder how Coach K finally broke through at Duke? In my opinion, a group of young men, which turned out to be his 1986 national runners up (including ESPN’s Jay Bilas and former 76er and Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins) decided he was a coach who was headed in the right direction. The players in this game made the same decision a few years ago. Alan Bellando of Belen and Jim Piggot of Gulliver have both been honored as coaches of the year. These two men have built excellent programs at excellent schools. Jim Delang at Columbus Catholic and Roy Kelly at Ransom are two more examples of the same in Miami. Talking with coaches Bellando and Piggot, they just wanted to brag about the young men on their teams. These two guys are so proud, highlighting their players future colleges (UF, FSU, Dowling, Yale, USC, Fordham, Ogelthorp, Gilford, Wheeling Jesuit, Catholic, Penn State, Loyola, Colby, Miami Dade Honors College, Manhattan and Bentley to name a few). Some will play at the next level and many will not. All will finish high school with great memories and friendships.
What I saw Tuesday afternoon was a group of kids who never gave up, who contested every ball, who shot with skill, who made great decisions both on and off ball and who played (pardon the expression) really pretty defense. The defense was pretty because balls were stripped with finesse, slides were timely and doubles were executed thoughtfully. There were very few penalties and the old “Florida football style ugly lacrosse” which was a feature in the early days of the sport in our state was nowhere to be seen.
“One man can be a crucial ingredient on a team, but one man cannot make a team.” – Kareen Abdul-Jabbar.
This was one excellent game, featuring two teams. For the record, the Gulliver Prep Raiders defeated one of its cross town rivals, Belen Jesuit, 7-5, in a game which could have easily gone the other way. Sitting down and going through the photos, I realized for the first time the fourth quarter was scoreless. Watching the game, I never would have said that was possible as the play was fast and furious – and highly entertaining. Maybe, just maybe, that’s what the soccer people like about that sport – lots of great play and no scoring. Nah – you can’t compare the two sports. Even in a low scoring game, 12 goals were scored.
For you baseball fans, one of the strategies a batter employs is to not take a swing until after the pitcher throws his first strike. Belen’s Ricky Mayo won the opening face-off (he was 11 for 13 on the day) and moved the ball to an offensive set. A passing clinic was in progress when the referee crew (by the way, an excellent group from Palm Beach County, some of whom worked the Hobart Cornell game in West Palm in February) put the Wolverines on the clock. Does anyone remember seeing a team put on the clock on the first possession? Well, the strategy worked as Danny Dager promptly hit the net and Belen led 1-0.
Gulliver’s Nico Butnaru answered with a peg to the top corner from second base (still on baseball). 1-1. The Raiders’ mister do it all, CJ Hassan, (more about him later) added another with a rip from a right alley dodge 2-1 Gulliver. Alex Balli netted the next with after a nice dodge on the left side with three defenders on him. 3-1. Shortly thereafter, Hassan potted a narrow angle right alley shot top left and it was 4-1 at the end of the first.
Belen answered with a solid 2nd quarter, outplaying the Raiders on both sides of the field. Gabriel Garcia fired a righty MLL 2 pointer from the left side to make it 4-2. About that time, the de la Cruz Crazies (aka Miami Cameron Crazies) started to find their rhythm. These Wolverine students were my favorite fans this year. While a unified “you can’t do that” and the occasional “air ball” did not show a ton of creativity, they made me laugh and were very well behaved.
Trevor Pelletier put the margin back to 3 connecting from the right alley. At this point, the ball control Woverines worked their way back with Garcia connecting and then Johnny Powell scoring from the right. 5-4 Gulliver at the half.
Garcia opened the 3rd with a beautiful left alley dodge, finishing righty up close. 5 all. Belen’s last goal. Who woulda thunk it? Gulliver’s goalie Lucas Rego only had 23 saves by my count, and that’s not because his defense didn’t support him. For a team set on a slow down, possession oriented game plan, the Wolverines took many good shots. While I am on goalies, Mat Salas had 8 of his own for Belen. It was a game of runs and both goalies came through for their teams.
Walker Gautier put Gulliver back up 6-5 with an outside rip from the left and he added what turned out to be the insurance tally with 43 seconds left in the 3rd.
On the defensive side of the ball, many players stood out. Belen’s Luis Corps had 4 pretty takeaways. His teammates Joseph Cruz, Oscar Ortega and Joshua Lara played well. For Gulliver, defenders Sebi Zelaya and Dominic Benitez had solid outings.
A note about CJ Hassan. What fun to watch him play. He faced off, played great offense and every so often grabbed a long stick when needed. A truly special player. Good luck at the next level, CJ!
Down to the final eight, Gulliver hosts St. Thomas Aquinas this Saturday at 3:00. And, with the early start, there is just enough time to go to this game and then jump on the Turnpike to arrive for the 7:00 start of Barron Collier and Benjamin in Palm Beach Gardens.
Let’s just hope Lee figures out how to pick the winners this time…
Lucas Rego 23 saves, CJ Hassan 2g, Nico Butnaru 1g, 2a, Walker Gautier 2g, Alex Balli 1g, Trevor Pelletier 1g
Gabriel Garcia 3g, Danny Dager 1g, Johnny Powell 1g, Ricky Mayo 11 of 13 face-offs, Mat Salas 8 saves