The bus on the way to pick up the Pallotti boys lacrosse team got a flat tire, so the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association C Conference championship game pitting Pallotti against defending champion St. John’s Catholic Prep was delayed an hour. But once it started, the Panthers got rolling and never stopped on the way to a 16-9 victory.
It was the first C Conference championship for the Panthers since 2016 and their second overall.
Matt Mitcheltree scored three goals and had three assists, Aamir Young added four goals and two assists and Adam Rinker, Aiden Covington, Tye Wiggins and Robert Mitchell had two goals each to lead the Panthers (17-2).
The day before the game, Pallotti coach Kirk Dodson had a message for his three attackmen and four main midfielders.
“I pulled them into the room yesterday and we talked about big-time players stepping up in big-time games,” Dodson said. “I told Matt he’s got one of the best shots I’ve ever seen and I need you to go out tomorrow and be a gunslinger.”
Most of the games with St. John’s the past three years have been low-scoring affairs, but Dodson brought a different strategy.
“In the first quarter, if I don’t call a play, we are good. We are going to run-and-gun and we are going to see how things go and just up and down the field because our defense is in great shape,” Dodson said. “Let’s just run-and-gun this and wear them out and you saw that come fourth quarter they were exhausted.”
Was Mitcheltree comfortable with the up-tempo attack?
“Not usually, but you know what, we came out, we did it and we came out on top,” said Mitcheltree, a junior midfielder. “Losing the bus, that really brought us together. The team chemistry and everything got really hyped, it made us more angry than ever.”
The team had to wait for a replacement bus, which was dispatched from Arlington, Virginia, and then had to transport them William G. Tierney Field in Sparks.
Mitcheltree had three goals and two assists in the first half. He assisted Young for the first goal 30 seconds into the game and converted a feed from CJ Rukus less than a minute later.
Pallotti led by just a goal late in the first half but pulled away in the final three minutes, scoring three times. Mitcheltree assisted Wiggins for the first goal and scored the second after hard work on a ground ball in traffic by Mitchel. Jakai Butler assisted Covington for a back-breaking goal with nine seconds left in the half that helped the Panthers take a 9-5 advantage.
“It’s just hard, they came out ready and they’ve never put up more than seven on us and tonight they put up 16, so they were ready,” St. John’s coach Matt Williams said. “We just couldn’t get that momentum back on our side. It’s a game of runs and they were shooting it the best I’ve ever seen them.”
Dodson wouldn’t let his team get overconfident in the locker room.
“We were in the same venue, same championship last year and we were down by three at halftime and we came back and tied it, so I knew that they had it in them to come back and tie it, so we just had to stay focused,” he said.
Just 17 seconds into the second half, Young scored again and the lead was five, but the Vikings made it 10-6 when Gavin Prunty (four assists) assisted Nick Gamarra less than 30 seconds later.
But that was the last Vikings goal until early in the fourth quarter as the Panthers rode the physical defense of Jayden Lewis, Ade Adeyemo, Peyton Stopps, Olivier Woodget, goalie Jace Wiggins and faceoff specialist Ruckus.
Jace Wiggins, who will play at Virginia State next year, made seven of his 10 saves in the second half.
“Since I took over four years ago, he has been a rock and an anchor point of the entire program,” Dodson said. “He’s been making saves like that for four years and I’m just so glad he got to be on a stage like this where everyone could see just how great he truly is.”
Ruckus won 16 of 28 faceoffs and helped fuel the offense by winning 4 of 5 in the third quarter.
“CJ was much faster on the whistle than I’ve seen him all season and he really worked hard picking up ground balls,” Dodson said. “I told him after the game that was the best game I’ve ever seen you play.”
He also credited freshman backup Sean Innerbichler with helping Ruckus improve. Ruckus recalled the last time he faced St. John’s during the regular season when the Panthers escaped with a 7-6 victory.
“Last time I played them, I won like three of 13 or 14, so I went back to the lab with my boy Sean, that’s where we practice and we worked on our skills and we came into this game with one goal in mind and that was to win,” he said.
The Panthers continued to apply the pressure and expanded the lead to 13-6 by the end of the third quarter on goals by Young, Ben Miller and Rinker.
“If we have possession of the ball, they can’t score and I knew that if we maintained that lead they were going to start pushing out and when they push out we have some of the most athletic kids in the entire MIAA, I don’t care what conference and you saw how we continued attacking deep into the game,” Dodson said.