St. Thomas Aquinas Captures First FHSAA Title With 13-11 Win Over Ponte Vedra!
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photos by Tom Congdon “Just Win Baby” Three simple words, long ago linked to another team called the Raiders. And for this Raider Nation the long mountain climb has come to the end. The view at the top is breathtaking All the more so after the trip that was taken. Four of five games away from home . . . Stoneman Douglas, Oxbridge in OT, Gulliver on a hot Saturday, Benjamin in 3OTs and finally Ponte Vedra All in less than 3 weeks And now when Coach Crowley goes somewhere he might stop getting asked about that fall sport . . . St. Thomas Aquinas lacrosse is now at the top the masthead. What a game this was to watch. Indy Car speed . . . Stanley Cup Game 7 intensity . . . This wasn’t your father’s lacrosse game, it was more like what you would expect if Disney designed a lacrosse ride. Or the directors of Fast and Furious got the urge to invent a game. NINETY THREE shots, with 52 of them hitting the cage. Very few of them at a speed one would think was easily savable. Posts hit that were heard in the stands. The lacrosse equivalent of Hagler-Hearns (Google it if you don’t know) . . . maybe I’ll post it as part of tomorrow’s Final Top 20. For Ponte Vedra, a sign of tomorrow. Almost all of the offense comes back. As does FOGO Andrew O’Dare. Man, would an O’Hare – Gable Braun duel be fun to watch . . . There will be some holes that need filling on defense. That’s where the experience was this year. The sophomore class is loaded and the returning juniors include O’Dare, Matthew Keeler, Clay Welch and Reid Smith. Those four combined for only 201 goals. Not a bad building block. And goalie Wyatt Schupler is a soph . . . as in two more years The cupboard is not bare . . . it’s more like a buffet. When you look at the difference in the game it comes down to two things . . . execution and experience. In the fourth quarter those two went hand in hand STA’s top players were mostly seniors, they had gotten to the finals last year while the PV juniors did not. There was a little familiarity with the experience. PV’s offense was effective until early in the fourth, but there was a weakness in the first half in one glaring area . . . clearing the ball All season long we wrote about STA’s riding and how good defensively their midfield was and last night it was in full force. I believe Louie Yovino caused SIX turnovers himself and most were on the clear. He is EASILY the best two-way middie in the state and maybe for a number of years. He has a sense of leverage and timing to maximize the risk of the ball carrier coming towards him and so few players are ready for what he does. And he was not alone at that. Friday’s hero Joey Guglielmo is pretty tough to get by too. More clears and PV might well win this game. But it’s a full field sport. One other thing that happened early is that PV’s early possessions were not in the rhythm of their offense and the shooters were settling for flat footed looks instead of getting step down opportunities. STA was a little bit deeper in the contributors too and in the fourth quarter their defense was able to start to take away the two man game and Ponte Vedra didn’t really have a good answer in the fourth. That also is indicative of the experience factor. PV did not play a close game all year and STA played two OT games in the past three prior to this one. Success in those games certainly bred confidence that down the stretch they could still execute. As the game went on PV’s offense did ‘settle down’, or what passes for that in their quick strike approach. It didn’t look to me like PV had a natural lefty and that did make it a little tougher too. But when they were able to isolate down low they were very effective. O’Dare also creates matchup issues as his quickness allows him to out run the wings for fast breaks even when he doesn’t necessarily win the faceoff quickly. But when you look at the stats there was one other thing that showed up. PV’s offense mainly came from their known commodities, Welch, Keeler, Smith and senior Ben Buchanon combined for all but one of PV’s goals. One thing that STA showed all season is that role players would step up in each game and you never knew which one it was going to be, making preparation difficult. And sure enough, in the first half, in just 8 minutes spanning the first and second periods, was the hat trick scored by senior Brennan Harhart, who had 4 goals in the regular season. In his last high school lacrosse game, on the biggest stage . . . Timmy Smith fans are rejoicing . . . and Brennan Harhart will long be remembered in STA lacrosse lore. Probably up north of Jacksonville too. Add it all up and you have the two goal difference. Both goalies were marvelous. 28 saves between them and VERY FEW easy ones. And really no bad goal got by either. Where STA’s Michael Adler gave STA a small advantage was in the clearing game where he was more aggressive in carrying and creating space and that gave STA some more offensive time. One thing I looked for defensively was if STA’s long poles would have trouble with PV’s quickness and whether STA’s trail checks would be effective. Over the course of the game it seemed to even out but there was one late trail check that really mattered and cut off the PV opportunity to cut into the lead with about 3 minutes left. Give me some more of this! There was nothing left in the tank and the fans were treated to something special. Florida lacrosse is here to stay. Kevin Crowley opened the scoring for STA at 10:27 as he took the Guglielmo left wing pass low on the left and his right hand found the far middle. Welch evened the score at 5:59 as long pole Jacob Reeves found him in the middle from the right and Welch had a clear path to goal, going to the low left corner. A minute later Yovino took the left GLE feed from Sam Khalil up top and his step down found the low right corner. Harhart then chipped in his first as Guglielmo passed from the right wing to the middle for the step down to the low right at 3:24. Welch got that one back 37 seconds later on a right alley dodge, nailing the top left corner but Khalil made a gritty play at 1:46 as a turnover in front of the PV net found him 10 yards out and he hit the cage, surprising Schupler for 4-2 after one. Welch again answered early in the second as he dodged in from the right to the middle and his left hand hit the top left corner. PV then regained possession but after a steal off the clear Harhart took off down the middle right and cut back to the middle and his left hand hit the low left corner at 9:11. 31 seconds later Yovino went left from up top, utilizing a pick and when PV was slow to slide he fired between Schupler legs for 6-3 and only 11 seconds later Harhart popped a faceoff, went down the middle and hit the low left for 7-3. At 6:52 Buchanon and Keeler worked the two man game on the right wing and the feed to Buchanon in the middle gave him the open look for the goal. 52 seconds later it was 7-5 as Smith curled from behind left and his right hand hit the top short side. PV further cut the lead to one at 3:00 as Keeler cut in from the left side to the middle and his right hand hit the low left. Crowley responded as he worked up from left GLE to the left alley and his shot hit the low short side for 8-6 but 27 seconds later Jack Burke picked off the clear and he went down the middle to score to make it 8-7 at the half. Jimmy Harrington regained the two goal lead at 8:52 as Crowley found him off the fast break all alone on the left crease. PV got back within one on the only EMO goal of the night as Buchanon took the Smith pass cutting down the middle from behind and he hit the low left at 4:30. At 2:38 Nick Borodiak made it 10-8 moving in from the right wing and finding the low far side but 32 seconds later Smith picked off a pass and after a right wing swim move hit the top left corner for 10-9 and at 1:10 Keeler tied the game at 10 as he spun left in the middle and hit the low short side. But with only 11 seconds left in the quarter Harrington took a feed on the crease from behind by Brock Gonzalez for the one timer and it was 11-10 STA after three. The defenses settled in for the first 6 minutes of the fourth until Crowley curled from behind left and he hit the short side at 5:52 for the two goal lead. Less than a minute later Crowley finished off a multi-pass fast break from Khalil all alone on the left crease and it was 13-10. STA’s defense kept PV in check as they allowed only 2 shots on goal in the fourth on 8 shot attempts as PV got impatient on their shot selection but with 31 seconds left Smith was able to pick a pass off and he worked from right GLE to the front before going low. O’Dare did win the following faceoff but PV was not able to threaten the net and STA was able to clear down the field and the game ended as PV flung one last long shot towards goal. A game that spent so much time at hyper-speed finished a little like how a candle burns itself out. And after all the excitement of the two days it almost felt a little like closing time at the store. Or maybe all of us in attendance just got burned out on the excitement . . . I know I couldn’t go right to sleep either. But that doesn’t matter right now . . . After all, it’s only 283 days until February 8th, when we get to start all over again . . . Can’t wait! Team Statistics Faceoffs: PV 15-11 Shots: STA 50-43 Shots on Goal: STA 28-24 Turnovers: PV 21-15 Penalties: STA 3-2 Individual Statistics STA Kevin Crowley 4G/1A Brennan Harhart 3G Jimmy Harrington and Louie Yovino 2G each Sam Khalil 1G/2A Nick Borodiak 1G Joey Guglielmo 2A Brock Gonzalez 1A Michael Adler with 13 saves PV Reid Smith 3G/1A Clay Welch 3G Matthew Keeler 2G/1A Ben Buchanon 2G Jack Burke 1G Jacob Reeves 1A Wyatt Schupler with 15 saves Thanks to Coach Crowley and Coach West for talking to me both before and after the games. Congrats to both of them for the great seasons their teams had and to Terry for finally lifting the trophy.