A few minutes into the second quarter of Saturday night’s Under Armour All-America Boys Lacrosse Game, North midfielder Ryan O’Connell charged through the offensive third for a goal.
The North Carolina commit’s tally was a welcome change for the North team, which cut its deficit to one after allowing the South to dominate possession throughout the first quarter.
And it sparked his team’s dominant second-quarter run, as the North team out-scored the South, 9-1, to enter halftime up by 6.
Behind 11 scorers and an aggressive attack, the North team won, 18-16, in the nationally televised all-star game at Towson’s Johnny Unitas Stadium.
“We were starting to click,” said North attackman/midfielder James Avanzato, a Maryland commit from Lake Grove, N.Y. “We were playing unselfish lacrosse, and we were just having fun. When you’re playing with guys like this, the work isn’t too hard. It becomes easy because you have guys that are so good around you.”
With 44 of the country’s best rising college men’s lacrosse freshmen on the field — a panel of five selects the group based on high school accomplishments and college expectations via tournament and video scoring, and input from coaches and media — the game was likely to feature potent offense.
The dominance showed as each team logged 30 shots before halftime and combined for 116 total. St. Paul’s goalie Alex Rode had to endure part of that onslaught, helping the South finish with 15 saves. The surge, however, often resulted in one of the game’s 55 turnovers because the squads hadn’t had much time to jell during this week’s activities.
But after the South established a rhythm throughout the first frame with five goals from five players, the North capitalized on lapses — many in the South’s defensive territory — to open the lead it didn’t relinquish.
North midfielder Connor DeSimone, a John Hopkins commit, paced the burst and finished tied for a game high with five points on three goals and two assists, earning Most Valuable Player recognition.
After the North withstood a man-down situation about four minutes into the second period, DeSimone picked up a turnover deep in his own offensive end and pushed it into the goal to tie the score at 6.
Soon after, DeSimone gave the North its lead off an assist from attackman Tehoka Nanticoke, who will play next season at Albany. Then, DeSimone widened the advantaged to two when he fed midfielder Matt Licciardi, a Cornell commit, for a score.
“My teammates were just looking for me the entire time,” DeSimone said. “They definitely did most of the work, and I give them a lot of credit.”
Navy commit Nate Buller soon powered through the zone with a defender guarding close to his shoulder for an overhead score, but the South, which opened second-quarter scoring in less than a minute, didn’t register another point for the remainder of the half.
Instead, DeSimone completed his hat trick and four of the North’s 10 first-half scorers added points.
Attackman Chris Gray (Boston U. commit) and midfielder Jackson Reid (Ohio State) followed DeSimone’s connection with one apiece in the span of about a minute.
After Gray found the back of the net, the entire North team, including the players on the bench, congregated in the South’s defensive territory and played duck-duck-goose.
It was one of the multiple elaborate celebrations the North employed throughout the game.
The team had watched the South brainstorm group antics throughout a practice session, so during halftime, the North came up with a bobsled move, when the players on the field sat between each others’ straddled legs and pretended to slide down the track.
“That was just what we were doing,” said Nanticoke, who finished with two goals and two assists. “It was out of nowhere, really.
“Getting the boys having fun and laughing. We want to make people laugh.”
The move kept the atmosphere lighthearted throughout the second half as scoring slowed for each side.
With late help from Maryland commit Cole “Bubba” Fairman — he had two goals as the first Under Armour All-America selection from Utah — the South had a 9-5 advantage in the second half. The North, meanwhile, endured a scoring drought that lasted 13:24 in the third period.
But the South’s push after the break wasn’t enough to erase the gap the North built in its second-half rally.
“It’s really humbling to get to play with these guys,” DeSimone said. “They’re awesome players and even better people, so it’s really awesome to get this whole experience.”