Any doubts about Justin Lea's health — or his impact on the Stevenson men's lacrosse team — should be a thing of the past.
The senior midfielder's four goals powered the No. 6 Mustangs to a sizeable advantage and his two assists put the finishing touches on a 12-9 win against No. 8 Denison before an announced 548 at Mustang Stadium in Owings Mills on Saturday.
Lea — who sat out eight games after breaking a bone in his right hand — scored all four of his goals in the first half to help propel Stevenson (11-2) to an 8-2 lead at halftime, and each score showed off his versatility.
His first goal just 59 seconds into the contest was a rocket from the left wing. Lea's second tally 22 seconds into the second quarter demonstrated his savviness as he drove the right alley, and when his defender inexplicably left him, Lea circled back and tucked a shot under junior goalkeeper Nick Petracca.
Lea's third goal with 5:16 left in the period resulted from his off-ball movement as he lost his defender and one-timed a centering pass from freshman attackman Pat Candon. Lea's fourth score was a blast from the right alley that he placed inside the left post with 15.6 seconds before intermission.
"They didn't have the pole on me, and if you don't have the pole, you have the green light to go to the net," said Lea, who has recorded 10 goals and three assists since his return. "I had a short-stick, so I just kept doing it, and I was getting free."
The Elkridge native and Mount St. Joseph graduate also helped the Mustangs stave off a fourth-quarter rally by the Big Red, who scored three goals in a span of 2:02 to halve a six-goal deficit. With Stevenson clinging to a 10-7 lead, Lea found senior midfielder Kenny Whitaker alone at the top of the box, and he bounced a shot past Petracca for a man-up goal with 6:27 remaining.
Twenty-seven seconds later, Lea found junior midfielder Peter Green to give the Mustangs a five-goal cushion that proved to be more than enough.
"Justin's been great," coach Paul Cantabene said. "He's fresh coming off his injury, and he's got a couple of extra legs since he hasn't played in a couple of weeks. But he's shooting the ball really well, and that's what you expect a senior to do. … We're glad to have him back, that's for sure."
Freshman attackman Stephen Banick scored twice to add to his team-leading total of 22. Sophomore attackman Tyler Reid added a goal and an assist, and Candon had two assists.
A pair of sophomores in attackman Eddie Vita and midfielder Chaplin Speidel paced Denison with three goals each, and Petracca finished with 15 saves.
But the Big Red (9-1) suffered their first loss of the season after being slow to adjust to the game's tempo that Stevenson set in the first half.
"I thought we were a little unsettled in the first half," coach Mike Caravana said. "I think that's a credit to Stevenson. They're very athletic and come out very aggressive defensively. It just took us time to kind of adjust to it. I thought we did a better job in the second half of adjusting to the speed of play that we needed to play at the poise you need to play at that speed. So that was encouraging for us to see us react in that manner."