In a few days, when the Howard boys lacrosse players look back on their spring, they are going to smile and remember producing one of the finest seasons in program history.
This year’s Lions won 16 games on their way to becoming the first squad to win a regional title and advance to the state final four.
But for now, the sting of falling to defending state champion South River, 15-6, in Saturday’s Class 4A/3A state semifinal at Annapolis High School will be what’s fresh in their minds.
“We’re proud of them,” Howard coach Jimmy Creighton said. “They didn’t quit on us and kept fighting. I know we have a lot of upset guys right now but that’s only because the expectation here is to win a state championship, period.”
The Lions grabbed a 2-1 behind a pair of goals by sophomore Cody Ford just four minutes into the contest before the Seahawks were able to knot the score midway through the period.
Tough defense and dominance in the faceoffs by John Travisano helped Howard stifle the potent South River offense. Then, in a flash, the Seahawks rattled off three straight goals in the closing 26 seconds of the quarter to take a 5-2 lead.
Matt Gaskins started the run with a jump shot in front of the cage. Brandon Senft scored quickly on a restart and Michael Ward sent a laser into the back of the net with eight ticks left on the clock.
“Congratulations to South River. They are a great team and they showed it today,” Creighton said. “They beat us up pretty good in transition that final 30 seconds and that’s something that we wanted to limit.”
From that point on, the depth and experience proved to be too much for the Lions.
South River coach Paul Noone’s plan was simple – attack Howard in waves. The fresh legs kept coming as twelve different Seahawks scored at least one point. Senft had five goals and an assist, while Ben Chisolm finished with four goals and three assists for the Seahawks (17-3).
“We have a lot of kids on our team that make plays on the field so we wanted to run numbers on them and that’s what we did,” Noone said. “Howard knows just as well as we do, lacrosse is a game of runs. Clearly that first quarter run didn’t put them away. They came back and answered what we had.”
The Lions (16-3) did respond right away to open the second quarter when Ford made good on a pass from Scott Bruner (two assists). The score remained, 5-3, and the play was even for the next seven minutes, but South River again got a couple last-minute goals to make it 8-4 at halftime.
Nick Striebich (two goals) made a nice move in front of the cage and scored, making it 8-5 early in the third quarter, but Howard never got any closer as the Seahawks used a stingy defense to slow the Lions attack.
“They play very good on-ball defense and we knew that coming in,” Creighton said. “We knew our guys were going to have to go hard at them and get steps on them. We got some good looks, especially in the first half but we just didn’t finish.”