One team is looking to complete perfection. The other’s looking to complete a return from the depths.
Boys’ Latin School and St. Paul’s School, arguably the greatest rivals in the MIAA A Conference lacrosse league, will meet again, this time for the coveted PNC/MIAA A championship trophy. The Crusaders and Lakers advance with semifinal victories Tuesday evening at Towson University’s Unitas Stadium.
Boys’ Latin, the consensus No. 1 in the area and nation, improved to 17-0 with a 16-10 decision over VSN’s fourth-ranked McDonogh School in the opening semi. Second-ranked St. Paul’s held off No. 3 Gilman School, 9-8, in the nightcap.
The Crusaders and Lakers return to the U, Friday night at 8 p.m., to settle who’s best in the nation’s best lacrosse league. It’ll be the first title match between the foes since 2010.
Top-ranked Boys’ Latin has returned to familiar territory, but the Lakers are looking for a much different finish.
One year ago, an undefeated, top-ranked Laker squad also found itself in the title game, but the they squandered a big early lead and were upended by Loyola Blakefield, perhaps the biggest Cinderella story in the history of the nation’s most storied high school lacrosse league.
McDonogh (15-5), despite falling behind by five goals on three different occasions in the first half, turned in a strong third quarter. Tally Bruno (3 goals) netted an unassisted goal early in the fourth quarter to give BL its biggest lead, at 10-4, but McDonogh scored four of the next five goals and pulled within three, at 11-8 with 5:40 to play, when Bobby Austin converted an assist from Robby Black.
The Lakers, however, closed the game on a 5-2 spurt to seal the win and their place in Friday’s title game.
Boys’ Latin opened the game on fire, scoring four times in their first six possessions and then adding a pair of goals in the first minute of the second quarter to build a 6-1 lead.
McDonogh tasted success with a pair of well executed extra-man efforts. The first resulted in a score by Blake Grey off of a perfect inside feed from Robert Clark. Clark then assisted Trey McGee, who cut the BL lead to three, at 6-3, but the Lakers countered with back-to-back goals, from Bruno and Shack Stanwick to push the lead back to five, before the club’s split the final two scores of the half.
Stanwick, who is closing out his tremendous high school career, as well the amazing Stanwick era forged by he, his three brothers and three sisters – all local lax standouts, scored four goals and added an assist to lead the Lakers.
“We got off to a quick start early. The last couple of games we’ve been able to do that, but McDonogh battled back and made it a close game,” said Stanwick. “We’ve got to just keep doing what we’ve been doing. We’ve been here before, we know what it takes. We know what we have to do and we have to come prepared, because whoever we play will be prepared and come out to play.”
In addition to Bruno’s hat-trick, Spencer and Keegan O’Connor both had a pair of goals, while T Moyer, Colin Chell, Brown, Nick Gesualdi and Anthony Wyler scored one each. Spencer added to a big game with three assists and Devin Shewell had two helpers. BL’s remaining assists came from Chell and Brown.
Clark, Austin, McGee and Jackson Morrill each had two goals for the Eagles, while Brinton Valis and Connor Young netted one each.
Boys’ Latin head coach Bobby Shriver said his team came to play.
“It’s a team game and always has been. We have a lot of good players and they showed up today,” said Shriver. “Look at all our players that we count on to do things and they all showed up.”
Shriver will look for a similar performance when Boys’ Latin returns to the U on Friday night.
In the post-game huddle after Tuesday’s second semifinal, St. Paul’s coach Rick Brocato told his squad he was excited to say his favorite two words.
“Practice Wednesday,” Brocato said drawing a huge cheer. The Crusaders are back in the championship round, thanks to a gritty performance.
Notre Dame University-bound attack Mikey Wynne and Henry Riehl each scored three goals for St. Paul’s. Chase Wittich finished with three goals and an assist for Gilman (11-7) and Matthews added two goals and three assists.
The Brooklandville school used two momentum-changing strikes from Riehl and a defensive stand in the final seconds to punch its ticket to Championship Friday. Two years ago, St. Paul’s, winners of a record 25 MSA A/MIAA A titles, went 3-15.
“2012 was a tough year but we’ve really built to this point,” said Crusaders coach Rick Brocato. “That 2012 team, a lot of those kids are still with us, they were young bucks then. Now, we’re a senior team.”
“We knew what that was like and we were hungry last year with a great senior class,” said Riehl. “This year our motto is unfinished business. We came out intense tonight. It was all heart.”
The Cruasders’ collective hearts stopped as Gilman forced a turnover with 18 seconds remaining. Junior goalie AJ Barretto stopped Sam Wancowicz’s attempt with four seconds left and St. Paul’s got the loose ball and threw the ball high back to the opposite end of the field, killing the remaining time.
“The defense played well and one of our defenders pushed the guy out and made him roll to his weak hand and got off a weak shot. It was one I could save,” said Barretto.
Riehl, one of 22 seniors on St. Paul’s roster, helped put the Crusaders on the path to Championship Friday. The Middlebury recruit broke a 5-5 tie with his unassisted strike after St. Paul’s won the fourth quarter-opening face-off.
The Crusaders regained possession after a Gilman violation. Riehl finished a pass from fellow senior midfielder Connor Sheehan for a 7-5 advantage with 11:07 remaining in regulation.
“Our faceoff guy Tyler Rockhill did a great job. The first one [goal], the defender slipped,” said Riehl. “Connor gave me a great feed and I did the easy work.”
Gilman closed to 7-6 on Tyler Ruhl’s goal but Rockhill won the ensuing faceoff and Jack Pollard’s shot scooted by Greyhounds goalie Ben Shmerler. Ruhl, who will play for Notre Dame next spring, got the Roland Park school back to within one, finishing a pass from Matthews with 5:26 to play.
Wynne, Ruhl’s future teammate in South Bend, ripped a bullet from 14 yards past Shmerler. Wynne said the Crusaders’ experience got through another tough MIAA A competition.
“Always win the fourth quarter, that’s what we try to do,” said Wynne.
The Crusaders, who lost to Gilman during the regular season, claim the opening quarter in the pivotal rematch Tuesday with an early 2-0 start behind Wynne. The Greyhounds grabbed a 4-3 halftime advantage as Wittich’s scored with just 8.7 seconds remaining.
Gilman maintained the momentum to start the third, going up 5-3 on Andrew Gemma’s unassisted score. Riehl’s man-up score and a goal from sophomore Mitch Gordon pulled the Crusaders back even entering the fourth.
“We’ve been down a lot at halftime this year, so one goal was really nothing,” Riehl said. “We’re a second half team and we just put it all together.”
The Crusaders know they’ll likely need a complete 48-minute to effort to do what one team (Loyola Blakefield in last year’s finals) has done in the last two seasons: beat Boys’ Latin. The Lakers, seeking again to complete a perfect season and a mythical national championship, defeated St. Paul’s in the regular season.
“We’re going to have to play our best game,” said Brocato, whose team didn’t win a MIAA A game in 2012. “There’s no doubt about it.”
“We’ve come through adversity and we’ve played really well and here we are,” said Barretto. “We’re going to championship again and against BL our biggest rivals. It couldn’t be better.”
MIAA A Conference lacrosse semifinals
at Towson University
No. 2 St. Paul’s School 9, No. 3 Gilman School 8
Goals: Gilman – Wittich 3, Matthews 2, Ruhl 2, Gemma; St. Paul’s – Riehl 3, Wynne 3, Bly, Gordon, Pollard
Assists: Gilman – Matthews 3, Ruhl 2, Wittich; St. Paul’s – Anderson, Flaig, Sheehan
Saves: Gilman – Lee 8; St. Paul’s – Barretto 12
Gilman 1 3 1 3 – 8
St. Paul’s 2 1 2 4 – 9
No. 1 Boys’ Latin School 16, No. 4 McDonogh School 10
Goals: McDonogh – Clark 2, Austin 2, McGee 2, Morrill 2, Valis 1, Gray 1; BL – Stanwick 4, Bruno 3, Spencer 2, O’Connor 2, Moyer 1, Chell 1, Brown 1, Gesuladi 1
Assists: McDonogh – Clark 2, Austin 1, Black 1, Senft 1, Valis 1, Young 1; BL – Spencer 3, Shewell 2, Chell 1, Moyer 1, Stanwick 1
Saves: McDonogh – Stover 10; BL – Pezzulla 10
McD 1 3 4 2 — 10
BL 4 5 3 4 — 16