Published in The Chagrin Valley Times
May 23, 2018
There was a fat chance the University School boys lacrosse team was going to beat Kenston in a game of solo battles during Division II region semifinals action on Monday evening at the Preppers’ Scovil Field in Hunting Valley.
While US junior attackman George Brinn was having his way on the dodge, burying five loud goals in the first half, Kenston strung three unanswered tallies to pick up steam and take an 8-7 lead at intermission.
Sure, the maroon-and-black laxers could put their money on Brinn’s coattail and hope for another one-goal victory – as was the outcome of a 13-12 affair that went their way in the regular season – but there was no need to spin the roulette wheel in a game of counterpunches.
“We have the ability for any guy to go off at any time,” US third-year head coach Hans Rydquist said. “We have a lot of top-end talent, but the nice thing is, different from years past, these guys want to play as a team. They want to find the extra pass, and they want to get their teammates involved, because they know it’s more difficult to stop a team than it is to stop an individual.”
Offensively, US went from a one-man show in the first half to a seven-man knockout in the third quarter, outscoring Kenston, 8-1, with seven different Preppers torching the back of the net to take a commanding 15-9 lead entering the final frame.
While Brinn notched his sixth and seventh goals in the period, University senior attackmen Charlie Bidwell and Max Baldridge, junior attackman George Curley, junior midfielder TJ Kelly, junior pole Jake Kapp and sophomore long-stick midfielder Brooks Crowley all got in on the scoring frenzy.
“We have some awesome players on this team, including some D-poles that can really shoot,” Bidwell said. “So, we were just spreading the ball around. And once we get hot, we get hot. So, we just put the pedal down and just kept scoring.”
More importantly, after committing 14 turnovers in the first half, the Preppers only coughed it up once in the third quarter.
Defensively, University subdued the Bombers’ run-and-gun offense, which finished the game plus-15 in the shots department, with a zone defense.
After Kenston senior faceoff guru Dillon Beal won 12 of 16 battles at the X in the first half – allowing senior attackmen Brian Apshago, Will Britton, Clay Barkan and Jack Rogers and senior middy Brandon Oakes to continue to fire and reload time and time again – the defensive switch was University’s best bet.
“That’s why at halftime we went to the switch at the zone,” coach Rydquist said. “They have great individual talent, and we wanted to see what they could do as a team. So, switching to zone kind of changes that mentality of one-on-one, where they have big, fast, athletic kids that were hurting us. They were doing a great job in the first half. So, we tried to switch to a zone to make them play a little bit more like a team. And we think it benefited us in the second half. “But I give my hat to them. They played a heck of a game. And those kids are senior heavy, they had a lot to play for, you know, I give them a ton of credit.”
Specifically at the end of the first half, Kenston’s Barkan scored back-to-back tallies, the first on an inside roll to create his own point-blank look against University junior goalie Critter Coughlin and the latter on a lefty sniper to the far upper-90s for a 7-7 equalizer.
Apshago then tossed an assist over the crossbar from behind the cage that Oakes slammed home on a catch-and-shoot cut down the center lane for the 8-7 lead. But the halftime horn came too soon for the Bombers.
“It allowed US to calm things down and make a couple of key adjustments, and we didn’t adjust on our end as efficiently as we would have liked to,” Kenston eighth-year head coach Jay Lammers said about his team’s momentum getting interrupted by the break.
“But our kids didn’t stop,” he said. “You know, they kept going for 48 minutes, and I’m proud of my guys with the effort and intensity they showed. I’m proud of the seniors that spent four years and countless evenings working on their craft and building the program to where it is today.”
While Kenston put 62.8 percent of its shots on target, University’s Coughlin made nine of his 15 saves in the second half to motor the Preppers home.
Starting senior defensemen Jon Blackwell and Nick Kosir continued to provide him clean looks by forcing Kenston shooters to trigger shots from 10 yards out or farther.
“Our defense was really stepping it up,” said Coughlin, who dialed in as a goalie after playing attack last season. “They made sure I could see. They pushed the guys out of my way and then kept sticks on hands, made sure guys, if they got a shot off, it wasn’t perfect. They just did what they could, and I did what I could.”
Kenston’s Beal finished the game 19-of-28 on faceoffs, but the Preppers neutralized him to five-of-nine on faceoffs in the third quarter, when they inserted defensive pole Kapp at the X in that period.
But, after Kapp won a faceoff and assisted Baldridge on a beeline from the restart, providing the Preppers a 15-9 upper hand with three seconds to go in the third, the officials measured his stick and deemed it illegal – but the damage in the frame had already been done.
“Dillon Beal had a heck of a game, he’s a heck of a player,” coach Rydquist said. “He’s been injured and hasn’t played in the last three games, but he’s still on my scouting report even though I hadn’t seen him in the last three games, knowing full well that, as a senior and as one of their best players, I guarantee no matter what that he’s going to try to suit up. So, we knew that, if he came out dressed, we’re going to have to work for it.”
Kenston’s Apshago was able to bury a pair in the fourth quarter, off assists from Britton and Rogers, and Rogers netted an unassisted tally on a near-impossible angle from the end line to cut the Bombers’ deficit, 16-12, with 1:24 remaining, but it was too little, too late.
The Bombers ended their campaign at 16-4 for the best mark in their 11-year program.
University School improved to 12-5 and will contend for a region title against No. 1-seed Chagrin Falls (15-1) at 7 p.m. on Thursday at Hudson High School.
While the Preppers are the two-time defending region champions and they defeated Chagrin Falls, 11-10, during a regular season affair on April 13, they received the No. 2 seed to the Tigers based on performances since.
“It is what it is, honestly,” Bidwell said about US not being given the benefit of the doubt, despite winning a head-to-head matchup. “I like being the underdog, because our team is good and we’re scrappy, so we’re going to play our hearts out against Chagrin, because we know that’s the biggest game.”
Goalie Coughlin said he’s ready for the spotlight.
“It’d be awesome,” he said about the opportunity to punch a state final-four berth. “Personally, I’ve been the backup goalie for our hockey team for the past three years, and going to Columbus is just an amazing experience. I really hope we get there for lacrosse.”
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