When the St. Paul’s School lacrosse team lost senior Matt Maher, a team leader and reliable offensive contributor, to injury, the Crusaders adopted the next man up philosophy.

That next man, sophomore Andrew Milani, has stepped up in a big way, and in a pivotal MIAA A Conference battle with rival Gilman School, Friday in Brooklandville, Milani scored three second half goals, including the game-winner with 3 minutes, 59 seconds to play and the Crusaders held on for an 8-7 victory over the eighth-ranked Greyhounds.

St. Paul’s played an excellent first half, building a 5-1 lead by the midway point of the second quarter, as senior Logan Posner scored four in times the game’s first 18 minutes. Gilman, however, got one goal back late in the half and outscored the Crusaders 3-1 in the third quarter to get within one goal, at 6-5.

Milani, on a feed from Keegan Pearl, scored his second goal early in the fourth quarter, to push the St. Paul’s advantage to 7-5, but the Greyhounds responded with scorers from Austin Hudson and Will DeMuth to tie the contest for the first time since it was 1-1 early in the opening quarter.

One minute and one second later, Milani attacked the crease from the left side, slid off a defender and triggered a shot as he dove in front of the cage, slipping the ball past the feet of Gilman goalkeeper Sam Tirone. It proved to be the game-winner, as the Crusaders came through on the defensive end down the stretch.

“They were pressing the sides and I just had my match-up,” said Milani of the winning sequence. “It was 7-7, so I just took him to the net and luckily it went in.”

According to St. Paul’s coach Rick Brocato, Milani has provided a boost for the Crusaders.

“Andrew is someone who has just come in. We had an injury to Matty Maher, one of our senior leaders, and Andrew has been the next man up and he really has learned how to play the game in the system,” said Brocato. “Today, letting the game come to him, he’s a talented, talented lacrosse player and he made a great play there at the end to score the winning goal.”

Of course, while Milani has provided a boost, Posner has been the constant. His four tallies Friday give him 58 on the season, establishing him as one of the most dangerous scorers in the league.

“In the first half, we looked great,” said Posner, who deferred the credit to his teammates. “Andrew was setting picks for me inside, Keegan (Pearl) was finding me inside and it was open. It was easy, layups.”

His coach turned the spotlight back on his senior star.

“Logan has been doing a great job all season long, putting the ball in the goal,” said Brocato. “I think he’s over 50 goals now for the season, which is pretty special for an attackman.”

A big key to St. Paul’s success on Friday and throughout the year is the play of senior face-off specialist Brendan Tscherne who took all 18 draws and won 16 of them.

“A big part of it was the possessions. Brendan Tscherne did a great job and our face-off crew did a great job,” said Brocato. “The wing guys were picking up ground balls and Brendan has been doing it all year for us, as well.”

In addition to Posner and Milani, Logan Zimnock had a goal and an assist, Pearl had three helpers and Kyle DiPietro added one assist. In goal, Alex Rode made six saves.

Gilman’s goals came from seven different players. In addition to Hudson and DeMuth, Woody Kelly, Dylan Bird, Jordan Yaffe, Jeremy Cranston and Wade Oursler all found the back of the net. Cole Brown added an assist and Tirone had six saves.

Brocato, who is trying to soak in every moment of his final year on the sidelines with the Crusaders, before retiring at season’s end, was thrilled to be involved in another MIAA classic, and win.

“Hats off to Gilman. They are well coached. They are a gritty group and they play hard,” said Brocato. “This was a classic St. Paul’s/Gilman game on our homecoming. It feels good to survive in this one.”

Gilman coach Brooks Matthews said his team took a lot of positives out of the game, despite the setback.

“I was really proud of them,” said Matthews about his team’s comeback from the early deficit. “It was a tough start. St. Paul’s settled in and strung together a few goals. It’s hard to give up runs in this league and get back from that, but I was really proud of our guys battling back in the third quarter and, I think, taking the momentum.

“Credit to St. Paul’s. They held firm on their defense, their goalie was outstanding and they earned the win.”

With the win St. Paul’s (13-3 overall) improved to 4-2 in  the league where they are a part of a three-way tie for third-place with Loyola Blakefield and McDonogh School. With three league games to play, the Crusaders will lock up a spot in the playoffs with just one more win.

Gilman (8-5 overall) is now 3-3 in the conference and in control of its own destiny for the playoffs. The Greyhounds will play their most critical game of the season on Tuesday, when they host St. Mary’s (2-4), who linger just one game back of the Greyhounds in the chase for the final playoff spot. A win in that game, would guarantee a post-season trip for Gilman, before they close with No. 2 Boys’ Latin School and No. 3 McDonogh. A loss would leave them tied with the Saints and hand St. Mary’s the tie-breaker, heading into the final two games.

At the top of the league, Calvert Hall and BL are both 6-0.

GIL  1  1  3  2  —  7
STP 2  3  1  2  —  8
GIL-Woody Kelly 1, Dylan Bird 1, Jordan Yaffe 1, Jeremy Cranston 1, Wade Oursler 1, Austin Hudson 1, Will DeMuth 1; STP-Logan Posner 4, Andrew Milani 3, Logan Zimnoch 1.
ASSISTS: GIL-Brown 1; STP-Keegan Pearl 3; Zimnoch 1, Kyle DiPietro 1.
SAVES: GIL-Sam Tirone 5; STP-Alex Rode 6.
SHOTS: St. Paul’s, 31-25
FACE-OFFS: St. Paul’s 16-2.