These are exhilarating, and, truthfully, scary times for fans of the Boys' Latin School varsity lacrosse team with just one game remaining — May 16, against archrival St. Paul's School in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference final.
Up to now, the Lakers' season has been pretty much perfect. They're the No. 1 team in the metropolitan area, according to The Baltimore Sun, and are also No. 1 nationally in the most recent Under Armour/Inside Lacrosse rankings. They boast a 17-0 record after a recent 18-12 thrashing of archrival St. Paul's School, and Tuesday's 16-10 triumph over McDonogh School in an MIAA A conference semifinal. St. Paul's defeated Gilman, 8-7, in the other semifinal.
One might think Lakers fans would be giddy about a second consecutive unbeaten regular season with a 37-1 overall record during that span — and about the prospect of a 10th lacrosse championship trophy being showcased on the Lake Avenue campus.
Yet a palpable sense of apprehension remains for some fans.
BL coach Bob Shriver, the last conference coach to go unbeaten (21-0, in 2006), said the golden rule is, "Thou shalt not go undefeated in the A Conference."
He said that after running the table in the conference during the regular season, playoff setbacks can be devastating to a program's psyche.
That's why Shriver and his coaching staff deserve credit for not allowing last year's disaster against the Dons to negatively impact the current season.
"Yes, there's pressure," admitted Shriver, who has compiled a 490-135 record and claimed five championships at his alma mater since 1980, "but it's good pressure. Look, it's too bad we didn't close the deal last year, but to have your heart broken the way we did means you have to be in a position to have your heart broken."
And during Shriver's reign, BL has often found itself in title contention.
The 2014 Lakers think things could be different this time, despite the program's postseason pratfalls of recent years.
Those include a 17-7 whipping by St. Paul's in the 2010 finale and a 7-6 semifinal setback the following May to Gilman School, in a bizarre ending in which the Lakers gave up three shorthanded goals in the final minute of regulation before falling in overtime.
"I think we've learned from our mistakes, and that every team can be beaten," said BL star attackman Shack Stanwick. "We have to come into each game, no matter who it is, and respect our opponents. That's one of the things coach Shriver talks about, respecting our opponents."
Stanwick,of Roland Park, is the Lakers' best player and No. 1 recruit in the nation, according to Inside Lacrosse. He will attend Johns Hopkins University in the fall to join older brother Wells on the Blue Jays' attack.
He is the youngest of eight siblings, all of whom played lacrosse at the Division I (athletic scholarship) level in college. He is the focal point of all rival defensive strategies and one of the greatest players in the storied Boys' Latin program after surpassing Chris Boland on the Lakers' all-time scoring list with 312 points.
Still, Shriver is waiting one more game to make his final determination on where Stanwick stands in comparison to the school's all-time lacrosse greats.
"I hate to put a phrase or a category on a kid before he's finished his high school career. It's unfair to the player," Shriver said.
Stanwick, fellow senior Colin Chell and a pair of juniors, Devin Shewell and Patrick Spencer, bolster a balanced and dangerous offensive attack. But the defense has had to improvise as the season progressed, overcoming the loss of its top close defender, senior Hugh Mosko, the anchor of a unit already depleted by graduation from last year's 19-1 juggernaut.
Shriver, the dean of MIAA coaches, said that losing Mosko during a 12-5 win over Calvert Hall was a blow to the back line.
"We clearly started over this year, on defense," said Shriver, whose team has beaten conference foes by an average of 6.5 goals per game. "I'm prejudiced a little, but I think (Mosko is) as good a defenseman as there is in the league, so we're clearly not as good as we were before he got hurt."
And in the midfield, the first line boasts senior Hunter Moreland, one of the nation's top faceoff specialists, as well as fellow Johns Hopkins recruit Tally Bruno, future University of Maryland Terrapin Keegan O'Connor, reliable scorer Austin Brown, water-bug quick T Moyer, and a host of others. They give Shriver three strong lines, a luxury few rivals can match.
Moreland could be the Lakers' key in the championship run.
"Fifteen of 17 (faceoffs) Hunter won in the second half," said St. Paul's coach Rick Brocato after the regular season finale, when the Lakers jumped out to a 12-3 halftime advantage.
"When you give a team like that that many possessions, they're going to score. But he's been doing that all year. We didn't have an answer for him."
Moreland was at it again against McDonogh in the semifinal, grabbing 23 of 30 draws. His ability should help calm the nerves of anxious Laker fans as they await Friday night's 8 p.m. final.
For his part, Shriver said he may change the way the team prepares for the game, which falls on the same day as the Boys' Latin Senior Day celebration.
"It's a very emotional day for our seniors," Shriver said. "It takes a lot out of them and then they have to sit around and wait for the game. Last year I think we may have been too pumped up. We had that big lead, and then we may have run out of gas a little bit."