The Howard boys lacrosse team will once again compete for a state title.
After missing out on playing in the state championship game the last two seasons, the Lions will return to the final after defeating Bowie 15-2 in the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association Class 4A semifinal on Saturday.
“We’ve been working very hard to get to this point,” said senior midfielder Henry Frazier. “We’ve gone through a lot of adversity this season, and the feeling to finally get back here is unreal.”
Howard played in the state final in each season from 2014 through 2016, winning in 2015. Frazier was a freshman at Howard, along with eight other Lions, the last time the Lions reached the state title game.
“I was on the sideline. I didn’t get pulled up, but I was the water boy,” Frazier said. “I was there, and I was around the guys. I know that feeling. I never got to feel it on the field, so now that we’re here, we have to seize this opportunity.”
The Lions were coming off a 6-5 upset win over Urbana in the North region final, which secured Howard its sixth regional title in seven years. After an up-and-down regular season, Frazier said the team believed it could advance to the state title contest when the postseason began.
“After the Urbana game, we started thinking, ‘Why not us?’” said Frazier, who had an assist in the win over Bowie. “That’s been our motto throughout the playoffs. Why can’t we make it to the big dance? A lot of the guys started kicking it up to another gear in the playoffs.”
In the blowout win over Bowie, the Lions dominated time of possession and passed the ball effectively on offense. Nine of Howard’s 15 goals were assisted.
“We’ve been focusing on playing as a team,” said junior attack Colin Sutch, who led all players with four goals. “We’re moving the ball around and going through the plays we’ve learned. It’s working.”
Howard (13-5) dominated Bowie (14-2) from the first minute of the game at Gaithersburg High School’s John Harvill Stadium. Jeff Bruner scored 23 seconds into the contest, and Sutch scored three straight goals to give the Lions an early 4-0 lead.
“We came out as a team. We were all fired up and excited for this opportunity,” Sutch said. “We just started strong and moved the ball around.”
Howard scored twice more in the first quarter, one by Bruner and the other by Colin Chikhale.
The second period was no different, as the Lions took an 11-0 lead into halftime. Bruner scored his third goal and added three assists to his stat line, while Sutch scored his fourth and had one helper. Marc Gildersleeve and Aiden Larsen, who had two goals, scored the other second-quarter goals.
Frazier said faceoff specialist Ethan Mitchell was crucial to the offense’s success. Mitchell dominated at the X, winning most of his faceoffs to give the Lions consistent possession.
“Ethan started facing off for us this year,” Frazier said. “He stepped up as our main guy after graduating such a powerhouse in Felix Knorr, who is at Towson now. (Mitchell) stepped up big time today. He got us the ball, so we were able to possess it, swing it around and put it in the back of the net.”
Howard’s second half goals were scored by Gildersleeve, Mitchell, Nathan Boone and C.J. Burns. Boone, a freshman, added two assists in the victory.
Bowie scored twice in the second half. Rashashim Gafney scored an unassisted goal in the third quarter, and Kai Cooper scored off a pass from Kobie Johnson in the fourth.
The Lions will play three-time defending champion Severna Park on Wednesday at Paint Branch High School. Start time is 8 p.m.
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“We have a championship approach to each game we’ve played,” Frazier said. “Nothing will change. We’re confident in the team we have, and we have a great coaching staff. We’re ready to go.”