After lightning forced the second half of the 4A/3A North Section I boys lacrosse final between Howard and Westminster to be played Tuesday, the undefeated teams needed an additional two overtime periods to decide a winner.
Lions midfielder John Travisano scored the game-tying goal with 18.4 seconds to go in regulation, but it was Brad Zulick’s high bouncer in the second extra period that determined the outcome against the visiting Owls, 11-10.
It was Westminster’s first loss since the 2012 state championship game, and kept Howard unbeaten in 2014.
“I’m very proud of the 33 young men, and the coaching staff right now, for the efforts put forth to fix some of the things we did wrong yesterday, and to come out here and battle it out,” Howard coach Jimmy Creighton said. “We played an extremely good team. To pull them to the wire, and to finish that way, I’m just very proud.”
Monday’s weather postponement came just seconds before the second half was set to begin, with defending state champion Westminster leading the way, 5-3.
Zulick, Scott Bruner (4 goals, 2 assists) and the rest of the Lions (15-0) relished the opportunity for a fresh start.
“We came off yesterday’s game and we were a little bit out of it,” Zulick said. “We got a chance to regroup, and rethink what we needed to do…It was a tough one — a hard battle. We were confident, we were ready and we were prepared. Every game is a championship game. We took that to heart.”
Howard’s defense allowed an average of fewer than three goals per game on the season, yet the team had its hands full with the visitors’ attack. Westminster ran the majority of its offense through Ryan Hursey (3 goals, 5 assists).
“It was two very, very good teams going at it,” said Westminster coach Steve DeFeo. “I think a double-overtime game says it all when that occurs.”
In both overtime periods, extra attention to the Georgetown-bound Hursey proved to be enough to limit chances and close out the game.
“We knew we could run with them. We proved it yesterday,” Creighton said. “We just needed to clean up some of our mistakes.”
Trailing by two goals at the start of the third quarter, Howard scored twice to tie things up before the visitors could find the back of the net.
Just when the Lions’ momentum was reaching its peak, goals from Hursey and Blake Ruby pulled the Owls ahead once again to end the third.
The teams continued to trade goals, and Howard got close. But, with 7:43 left on the clock, Hunter Davis scored to give the Owls another two-goal cushion.
“When they went up by two goals, we just told them to stay the course, keep playing our game and a couple will fall for us,” Creighton said.
Those “couple” of goals came off the hands of Leo Sementilli, who converted one in transition, followed by another unassisted score just 33 seconds later to tie things up.
But, inside the three-minute mark, Hursey found Ulhman to give Westminster what looked like its game-winning dagger.
Howard’s offensive players sprinted through the Westminster defense through the final minute, dodging checks and squeezing passes through tight windows. Finally, in what would have almost certainly been the team’s final chance, Travisano got his look and didn’t miss, sending the home crowd into a frenzy.
The first four minutes of extra time went fruitless for both teams, although each goalie collected a save in the process.
Zulick didn’t waste his chance in the second overtime, following his coach’s advice in firing an overhead bouncer for the score just 40 seconds in for the victory.
Though Westminster’s impressive undefeated season comes to a close with the loss, DeFeo — praising his seniors especially — said it was a fun ride.
“It’s hard, but we have a great group of leaders, and a great team here,” he said. “We had a wonderful season.”
Howard advances to the 4A/3A North regional title game on Wednesday, where it will welcome Sherwood.
“It’s a quick turnaround,” Creighton said. “We have to get hydrated, and we have to get geared up. We’ve got a regional championship game here tomorrow. We’re going to be excited about that. I know these seniors don’t want this to end.”
Howard 11, Westminster 10 2OT
Goals: W – Ryan Hursey (3), Jesse Uhlman (3), Hunter Davis (2), Scott Gwyn, Blake Ruby; H – Scott Bruner (4), Leo Sementilli (3), Cody Ford (2), John Travisano, Brad Zulick.
Assists: W – Hursey (5); H – Bruner (4), Sementilli (1), Zulick, Travisano.
Saves: W – Ryan Aler 12; H – Bryan Mauser 14.
Half: 5-3, Owls.
3A/4A South, Section I final
Glenelg 9, Centennial 7
The Gladiators will play River Hill Wednesday at 4:45 p.m. at Western Regional Park for the regional title.