The bus ride for the Liberty boys lacrosse team to Route 26 rival South Carroll is six miles in all, but it was plenty long enough for first-year coach Steve Fabian to get a good feeling heading into Monday’s Class 1A West Region I title game.
After an uneven regular season that included a five-goal setback to the host Cavaliers in the teams’ meeting a month ago, the young Lions have a clean playoff slate to work from and are making the most of it.
Edwin Blyden and Jesse Jason each scored three goals and goalie Jack Mancha, playing in front of a cohesive zone defense, made 12 saves to lead Liberty to a 10-9 win over South Carroll.
The Lions are one of eight region title winners, which will be reseeded going into Wednesday’s state quarterfinal round.
“When we got on the bus, I talked to Jesse and he was like: ‘We’re ready to go.’ That’s what I wanted to hear,” Fabian said.
After falling, 15-10, in the regular season, the Lions got off to a confident start with the game’s first two goals and a 3-1 advantage late in the first quarter. The Cavaliers, who got a fine three-goal, three-assist performance from Ben O’Brien, settled in and the game featured five ties before Blyden found space on the right side and ripped a low shot past South Carroll goalie Braden Chaney.
The goal gave the Lions a 10-9 lead with 6:55 to play, leaving plenty of work left for the team’s defense.
A switch from the previous game against South Carroll was playing zone defense. It kept most of the Cavaliers’ shots coming from farther out and Mancha proved up to the challenge. The Cavaliers had two extended possessions when down a goal in the final six-plus minutes but couldn’t find the equalizer. Ryan Barnard (three goals, one assist) missed just wide on three shots. After the Lions gained possession with 12 seconds left, they worked the ball out of danger, sent the ball flying in the air and celebrated with the region championship plaque.
Opening the region playoffs with a win over Francis Scott Key, the Lions will take a 7-7 mark into the state quarterfinals.
“This is my first year starting on varsity and to come away with a regional championship is a great feeling, a great feeling for the team,” said Mancha, a junior. “I think this is the best game we’ve played all year and it came at just the right time. Our record in the regular season doesn’t matter now — it’s playoff time.”
Needing three more wins to bring home the program’s first state championship — Liberty has made title game appearances in 2005 and 2016 — Blyden sees his team’s confidence on the rise. He was happy to do his part on Monday.
“We were able to come together as a team and put together four quarters and that’s something we haven’t been able to do all season. We did it today and that’s all that matters,” he said.
“I was able to focus, lock in and get the three goals, so it was a great feeling.”
The Cavaliers (5-8) had 17 seniors see their career end on Monday. Coach Grady Breen applauded the Lions’ adjustments on defense and was appreciative of the work his team put in all season.
“Somebody is going to go home unhappy and it happened to be us tonight. We got them earlier and it’s just how it goes,” he said. “I had a really special group of kids and I thought we could have gone farther, but it just wasn’t our night and hats off to Liberty and their coaching staff. They changed it up and are going home happy.”
Goals: L — Jason 3, Jones, Blyden 3, Wright 2, Ambrose; SC — O’Brien 3, Barnard 3, Mazalewski, Suter, Williams.
Assists: L — Jones 2, Wicklein, Ventura; SC — O’Brien 3, Barnard.
Saves: L — Mancha 11; SC — Chaney 5.
Half: L, 7-6