In the key minutes of Tuesday's Class 4A-3A boys lacrosse state championship, South River looked like a team that was making its fourth straight title game appearance while Howard was new to playing in the season finale.
The No. 11 Seahawks started fast with the game's first three goals. On man-up situations, they efficiently converted two of three chances and when down a man, they stifled the No. 8 Lions on their three tries and came up with a goal of their own.
South River did what it needed to put the game away and claim the program's third state championship with a 9-6 win over the previously undefeated Lions.
South River, which got goals from eight different players and a standout defensive performance from senior Billy O'Hara, finished the season 17-2 — avenging last year's title game loss to Westminster with a largely new cast, for their second crown in three years. Howard, which won their first Howard County title in 23 years, finish the season 18-1.
“Expectations coming in -- they’re are always set high -- and we knew going into the season, what we had to accomplish. We weren’t expected to do that great, we were a bunch of kids, and we don’t really take that type of pressure. We just fight for it,” South River attackman Dylan Mansur said.
With the Seahawks leading 5-3 after a scoreless third quarter, Cole Franzo, Dylan Mansur (two goals) and Matt Egley pushed the lead to five with 6:37 to play. Consecutive goals from Howard junior Cody Ford would cut the lead to 8-5, but Michael Ward answered less than a minute later to seal the win.
While the Lions were still settling into their first title game, the Seahawks made sure to take advantage. They won the game's opening faceoff and converted when Grant Maloof scored 34 seconds in. And while Howard was making uncharacteristic turnovers on its possessions, the Seahawks continued to make the most of their chances.
A little more than a minute after their opening goals, the Seahawks added to the lead when Brandon Senft took a feed from Maloof to make it 2-0. Another patient possession gave the Seahawks a man-advantage opportunity that led to Mansur's goal for a 3-0 lead with 4:28 to play in the first quarter. The Seahawks' three goals — coming in the game's first eight minutes — was already more than what Howard's defense had averaged yielding for the season.
South River coach Paul Noone was quick to praise his team defense with Craig Chick and Brian Krause playing strong with O’Hara in front of goalie Charlie Palandati, who finished with five saves.
“We’ve leaned on our defense all year long," Noone said. "We knew [Howard] was undefeated and had shooters. We told them we needed to shut down a couple guys, generate some offense and get goals a couple goals and we knew our defense could hold on and we did.”
The Lions weren't deterred and when they finally broke through, they did it in a big way when leading scorer Scott Bruner scored two goals in 23 seconds in the final minute of the first quarter to suddenly cut their deficit to 3-2.
South River's man-down defense played a big part in the second half to give the Seahawks a 5-3 lead at the halftime break. The Seahawks, aggressively extended their defense, to kill three penalties and doing one better when long pole Nathan Chisolm scored on one of the man-down situations to provide the 5-3 advantage with 5:47 to play.
The Lions got a dominating performance from senior faceoff specialist John Travisano, but the Seahawks were quicker to ground balls to gain possessions.
Howard senior captain Peter Emery said the Lions' breakthrough season isn't one that he'll forget.
“It’s been great – the whole community, I’ve never been a part of something my entire four years at Howard that has had so much support. It was an unbelievable experience,” Emery said.
Class 4A-3A state final
(at UMBC Stadium)
No. 11 South River 9, 8 Howard 6
Goals: H – Bruner 2, Travisano, Ford 2, Sementelli;
SR – Maloof, Senft, Mansur 2, Thomas, Chisolm, Franzo, Egley, Ward .
Assists: H – Sementelli, Simmons ;
SR – Maloof, Schmolar.
Saves: H – Mauser 6;
SR – Palandati 5;
Half: Sr, 5-3