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Fast start propels Northern to victory over Towson in boys lacrosse state semifinals

It took nine seconds, after J.P. Gross won the opening faceoff, to feed Matt Holland for a goal, giving Northern, of Calvert, (18-1) a 1-0 lead over Towson (16-5) in the Class 3A boys lacrosse state semifinals at Mount Hebron High on Saturday afternoon.

A tick under a minute later, Markie Nicholson scored again and the floodgates opened as the Patriots scored nine of the first 10 goals in the first half and cruised to a 12-4 victory.

They will play Westminster in the state championship game on May 22 at Paint Branch High at 6 p.m..

It will be the Patriots third straight appearance in the state finals — winning in 2017 and losing last year.

Gross and the Patriots didn’t just win the first faceoff — they won all 11 in the half, not counting the final one, when the halftime buzzer sounded before either team had clear possession.

“We were hopeful that we had a good matchup on faceoffs and we have a good faceoff guy and we thought we could win some faceoffs early,” Northern coach Joe Casalino said. “I don’t think we expected a fastbreak and a quick goal like that, but it certainly helps matters and I think we won every faceoff in the first half.”

Towson used four guys at the faceoff X, with Leighton Bechdel being the most successful, by helping the Generals win 5 of 8 in the second half.

“We hadn’t used Leighton all year and I was kind of desperate,” Towson coach Shawn Burke said. “Leighton did a helluva a job, he’s not a technician, but he cares a lot and he’s tough and he’s hard-nosed and we could have used more of that today.”

Northern coach Casalino knew how good Towson’s top faceoff guy was and they were prepared for senior Mitch Boudreau.

“We saw some things on film that we thought we could get on him, his stance was a little open and our guy is pretty good at being able to push the ball forward in those situations,” Casalino said.

Burke was puzzled by his team’s ability to win ground balls off the faceoffs.

“When you can’t win faceoffs, you play defense 90 percent of the time and you really don’t give yourself a chance,” he said. “Faceoffs are a team stat, we didn’t do a good job on wing play and ground balls around the restraining lines.”

Northern’s top scorer Holland (27 goals, 40 assists) led the scoring for the Patriots with two goals and two assists.

“He’s the best player we saw all year,” Burke said. “He’s a tough matchup.”

Casalino also praised the junior attackman.

“We had nice distribution of the ball, we had guys sharing the ball, we did really base our offense around Matt today, we thought Matt could win his matchup,” Casalino said. “He’s a great player and he played with a lot of heart today.”

Also in the scorebook for the Patriots were Nicholson (three goals), Brenner Chase and Coy Mills (two goals each), John Solier (one goal, one assist), Zach DeToto (one goal), Scott Purcell, Carson Vaeth and Gross (one assist each).

“Offense, all year long has been struggling, but today we showed with our poise and just how hard we’ve been working and it just showed today and it’s going to carry on to the state championship,” said Holland, who is second in goals to Nicholson (33 goals).

Towson’s goals came from Rory Bateman, Mason Hickman, Bechdel and Max Burkett.

While Northern’s defense was anchored by longsticks Jacob Purcell, Bryce Howard, Vaeth and Jason McNull and goalie Alex Sheehan, Towson’s defense was led by Teagan Hersh, who forced four turnovers and had five ground balls in front of goalie Wilson Turner (10 saves).

“Ground balls, he (Hersh) played well,” Burke said. “We just got out-ground-balled and we got out-hustled. Those guys deserve a helluva lot of credit. They are talented blue-collar-team and that starts with the coaching staff, they do a helluva job with their program, I couldn’t be more impressed with them.”

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