Ryan Tucker is a fine lacrosse player and, fortunately, a very good listener.
That helps explain what many believe to be nearly unexplainable — Gilman's improbable 7-6 overtime win over Boys' Latin in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference semifinals in mid-May.
The Greyhounds went on to capture the league championship a few days later with a victory over Calvert Hall, but the semifinal win is being described by many as the league's greatest comeback.
And Tucker, a senior captain who went on to earn first-team All-Metro honors, was the primary contributor to that monumental task.
With his team trailing by three goals and playing a man down with just over a minute left, he scored two goals and won two pivotal faceoffs, tying the game with 23 seconds left and then going on to score the game-winner with his third goal in the opening minute of overtime.
More than a month later, Tucker pauses and then lets out an "ummm" to steal some more time, all in a bid to find the answer to a question he's been asked again and again: How did you find a way to win that game?
"It's really ironic. I can't tell you how many times my mom [Johns Hopkins women's lacrosse coach Janine Tucker] told me to never give up — no matter what was happening," said Tucker, who will play for NCAA champion Virginia next year. "I don't want it to sound like a cliché, but that was the perfect example. I don't know what it was, but I would guess it may be all those years of her telling me to never give up. It's just really cool how it all ended."
Tucker will try to make more memories Saturday, when he closes out his high school career playing for the South team in the sixth-annual Under Armour All-America Classic. Game time is set for 8 p.m. at Towson University's Johnny Unitas Stadium.
"Ever since I saw that game — it was so cool watching it on TV — I thought it would be a dream to play in," Tucker said. "And then seeing [former teammates] Jack Doyle, Harry Prevas and those guys play in it when they were seniors … I just remember looking up to them so much."
Tucker's senior year got off to a special start when his soccer team captured its first MIAA A Conference championship since 1995. The league had more talented teams, and Tucker, a striker, said the Greyhounds often felt like the underdog. But seeing how the players came together as one helped them overcome all obstacles.
That experience helped him grow into a strong leader on the lacrosse team.
Part of two championship teams in lacrosse, Tucker accounted for 46 goals, 20 assists and 124 ground balls in his three varsity seasons. But the intangibles he brought to each practice and each game were just as vital.
"Ryan is a testament to positive energy, hard work and just loving the game of lacrosse," Gilman coach Brooks Matthews said. "He was a positive leader for us from the very first day and it never wavered. He never lost his enthusiasm for his teammates or the game. So that's one of the reasons I was just so happy that he was able to have that kind of success late in the game and late in the season when it counted most."
And that's why it was easy for Matthews to put the ball in Tucker's stick when the season was on the line against Boys' Latin.
The Greyhounds found a pulse when Tucker took a feed from Garrett Paglia and then accelerated to get a step on his defender before ripping a shot just under the crossbar from 15 yards to cut the Lakers' lead to 6-4 with 1:02 remaining.
He followed with a clutch faceoff win, making sure to get the ball forward to Paglia, who found Metro Player of the Year Conor Doyle for a goal to make it 6-5 with 42 seconds left.
At that point, Tucker said he was thinking "We got this!" and knew he needed to win another faceoff to have a chance. He cleanly won the next one with a straight clamp he scooped up himself.
"When I got the ball, I said 'I'm going to goal with it' and started to run as fast as I could to the goal," Tucker said.
Getting there took beating a double team, three more checks and getting fouled. He switched from the right hand to the left and tied the game on a shot that went between the goalie's legs with 27 seconds left.
"When he had the ball in his stick I think everyone was a little paranoid," said Boys' Latin senior midfielder Jeff Chase, who will be Tucker's teammate in the Under Armour Classic. "I think we did everything we could to try to contain him, but it didn't really matter — he just kind of outran us and made plays. I don't really know how to explain it other than say he's a great player."
"Ryan's got a personality, almost like a goalie, that he never gets fazed," Conor Doyle said. "What I mean is, he may make a bad play on offense, but he'll run back hard on defense and get a ground ball or make a play. He never lets anything get in his head. It's hard to describe, but you always have confidence in him."
Gilman played in three overtime games during the regular season, and Tucker often thought about scoring an overtime winner. After the Greyhounds won the faceoff to open overtime against Boys' Latin, they called timeout and Matthews called a play for Tucker.
He started in the center and worked a quick give-and-go with Justin George before dodging hard right-handed. Tucker got a step on a defender and the Lakers' slide came late, enabling him to rip a shot on the run that found the far lower corner.
"Towards the end of the game, it really clicked. I felt like this is what the entire season boiled down to and this was my time," said Tucker, who went on to score three goals in the Greyhounds' 13-8 championship win over Calvert Hall. "This was my time to get the overtime winner. I still really can't believe it, and I don't know how it happened, to be honest. It's just … something happened where everything just fell perfectly into place for some reason."