Falcons fight back from early 4-0 deficit to defeat Saints Peter & Paul for MIAA B Conference championship (VIDEO HERE!)

Sophomore Seth Higgins scored twice and dished out four assists to fuel the Gerstell offense in the 9-5 victory over Saints Peter & Paul for the MIAA B lacrosse crown Friday at Unitas Stadium.

by Gary Adornato

The Gerstell Academy lacrosse team has been quietly working on a secret weapon for most of the season. In the second quarter of Friday evening’s MIAA B Conference championship game, it was unleashed, propelling the Falcons to a 9-5 come-from-behind victory and their first B Conference crown.

The weapon was a zone defense and with it Gerstell rebounded from a 4-0 deficit with eight consecutive goals. In fact, the Sabres’ offense was held quiet for 25 minutes and 46 seconds before Nate Shafer snapped the drought with his third goal of the game, with 10:21 remaining in the fourth quarter.

The Gerstell zone, however, went right back to work, blanking the Sabres the rest of the way.

“I was a little nervous, but we’ve been in that situation a lot this year,” said Gerstell coach Sean Todd of his team’s early deficit. “I knew we could make some adjustments. We adjusted to a zone. I was trying to hold back as long as possible, but I knew we had to go to it.

“As soon as we did it made a dramatic change in the whole entire game. The boys did a great job of responding and changing the whole complexion of the game.”

Shafer, with an assist from Clay Schmidt, at the 5:36 mark of the opening quarter, put the Sabres on top. Saints Peter & Paul then followed with consecutive unassisted goals by Connor LeMire, Schmidt and Shafer, with the last coming with seven-seconds remaining in the opening frame.

Freshman goalkeeper Jax Francisco defied his youth, coming up with 10 saves in a big performance on the season’s biggest stage.

With the early offense coming so easily, little did the Sabres know they would score just one more goal. The Gerstell zone was not the Sabres’ only problem. Falcon freshman goalie Jax Francisco, who has been a student at Gerstell since his pre-school days, was sensational in recording 10 saves, including four in the fourth quarter when the game was turned around.

“Jax, I can’t say enough about him,” said Todd. “I’ve been teaching that young man PE since the second grade. I’ve been waiting a long time for that young man to come up. We graduated our senior goalie last year and I knew we would be in good hands, but tonight he blew away my expectations.”

In describing how he could succeed on such a big stage as a freshman, Francisco gave most the credit to his relationships with his older teammates.

“It’s been a great experience. I had a lot of seniors come up to help me,” said Francisco. “It helps going to a smaller school like Gerstell. It’s a great education and you have a lot of classes with older kids, so I have had a connection with a lot of the older kids and they have just taken me under their wing.”

Gerstell needed just 15 seconds of the second quarter to get its first goal as sophomore Seth Higgins fed Declan Kennedy. With 7:31 left in the half Higgins assisted again, this time to Drew Huber, and the Falcons were back within two, at 4-2.

A little more than a minute later, Michael Ippolito buried an unassisted tally and, with 4:01 to play, Zach Urban netted the equalizer for the Falcons.

Higgins put Gerstell on top for good with an unassisted goal, at the 8:52 mark of the third quarter. CJ Kovalsky then scored two straight for the Falcons. The first was assisted by Higgins and the second by Michael Ippolito.

Higgins continued his brilliance, assisting on a goal by Ippolito, with just 36 seconds left in the third quarter, and then he capped the scoring with an unassisted tally with just 24 seconds left in the game.

Higgins finished his night two goals and four assists, while Ippolito and Kovalsky had two scores each.

Higgins said the Falcons remained confident even when they trailed in the early going.

“We didn’t look at the scoreboard,” said Higgins. “We wanted to play our game, stick to what we know and during the stretch of eight unanswered, we took energy, knowing they don’t have a lot of depth. Our defense, stepping up big, and freshman Jax Francisco in the cage, a freshman, he’s been in the school a long time and finally got his chance to show what he’s got today.”

“Both teams played well, but you have to take your hat off to Gerstell,” said Saints Peter & Paul coach Will Schmidt. “They shot well and their goalie came up big. You have to give them credit. That’s about it.

“I think we may have run out of gas, but you know what, my guys are winners. They’re winners in life and that’s more important than any scoreboard.”

As the victory neared, Coach Todd finally took a sigh of relief.

“I have been stressing the last couple of weeks, hoping we would get in the playoffs,” said Todd. “I knew we would be dangerous if we got in here. The final seconds were a relief and really exciting for these guys, especially the seniors. We’ve been really building up, getting better and better, and we finally peeked their senior year.

“It was great to see them go off on the right note and earn all of that hard they did and adversity they went through.”

at Johnny Unitas Stadium, Towson University
GER 0 4 4 1 — 9
SPP 4 0 0 1 — 5
GOALS: GER-Seth Higgins 2, Michael Ippolito 2, CJ Kovalsky 2, Zach Urban, Drew Huber, Declan Kenney; SPP-Nate Shafer 3, Clay Schmidt, Connor LeMire.
ASSISTS: GER-Seth Higgins 4, Michael Ippolito; SPP-Cole Lacaze, Clay Schmidt.
SAVES: GER-Jax Francisco 10; SPP-Nathan Biddle 5.
SHOTS: Saints Peter & Paul, 30-27.
GROUND BALLS: Saints Peter & Paul, 27-21.
FACE-OFFS: Saints Peter & Paul, 12-5.