The biggest difference between the Fallston boys lacrosse team and its Class 1A state quarterfinal opponent, Liberty, on Monday was smack dab in the middle of the field.
It’s where Cougars faceoff specialist Aiden Dixon was not only dominant, but perfect.
The sophomore won all 22 faceoffs he took and the attack took advantage as the Cougars came away with a 12-7 home win over the Lions.
Fallston, seeded second in the eight-team field, improved to 11-1 this season and will next host Perryville, a 17-9 winner over Sparrows Point, in the semifinal round at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.
It was a balanced performance on attack that helped send the Cougars on to the next round with six players finishing with multiple points. Noah Richard led the way with three goals and two assists, while Peter Buckler and Dixon added one goal and two assists each.
But the biggest stat of the day was the 22 faceoff wins by Dixon that set the tone and table.
“We’re spoiled and we’ve gotten accustomed to that. He’s a game-changer for us,” Fallston coach Pat Null said. “Faceoff is so important in lacrosse and anytime your offense is clicking and your scoring goals, it’s a make it, take it. And anytime an opponent is beginning a stretch of success and scoring some goals, he’s a momentum killer in that sense. It’s absolutely enormous for us and I think he was obviously the key for us today.”
The seventh-seeded Lions (5-7) had a 3-2 lead midway through the first quarter when the Cougars methodically pulled away. They scored seven straight goals to close out the first half with a 9-3 lead. In the stretch, six players tallied.
Dixon, who began taking faceoffs when he was 4 years old, comes with a fool-proof plan that paid off Monday.
“The goal was to get it — let our defense have a break and let our offense take care of it. I didn’t want the ball to go on the defensive side,” he said.
“[With success] my confidence goes up a lot. I just work and go with the flow.”
After Liberty pulled within 10-6 with consecutive goals from Croix Javier and Jesse Jason to cut the deficit to 10-6 with 1:22 to play in the third quarter, Richard answered with a key goal coming with 27 seconds to play in the frame.
“I’m glad all my teammates were able to put in 100 percent effort — that’s what we were asking for,” he said. “Our last few games, we were in difficult positions — we had slow starts — so today we were stressing starting strong and keep them on the ropes and we got the job done.”
Chris King and Quinn McLaughlin added two goals for the winners, who have their eyes set on bringing home the program’s sixth state crown and first since 2016. The state championship games are set for Friday and Saturday at Loyola Maryland’s Ridley Athletic Complex. Richard, a senior, believes the Cougars have the goods to get there.
“It’s going to take everyone,” he said. “We have depth on this team and not many other teams have that and that’s our biggest factor going forward. We have two more and then there’s the ring, so that’s what we’re going for.”
Liberty, which used eight players from the junior varsity throughout the postseason with a handful of seniors opting to go to Senior Week, got a fine 15-save performance from goalie Justin Long. Jason finished with three goals and an assist.
“We’re really proud of our team. We played very good teams in [Francis Scott Key] and Pikesville to get here with mostly our JV players that came up, and we did the same thing today,” coach Josh Burchett said. “Fallston’s a very good team and their faceoff guy is very good and we knew that coming in. So that’s been our Achilles’ heel all season and we just got to play better defense as a team.”
Burchett added that while he was disappointed the seniors decided not to see the entire season through, he was understanding that they wanted to experience the special week. In a typical season without the pandemic, the playoffs are complete before Memorial Day.
The one plus was the valuable experience gained by the younger players.
“They played very hard and I’m really excited about the future we have ahead of us,” he said.
Goals: L – Jason 3, Wright, Allen, Williams, Javier; F – Richard 3, King 2, Buckler, McLaughlin 2, Wolff, Dixon, Mudd 2. Assists: L – Jason, Hodgkiss, Javier; F – Buckler 2, Dixon 2, Richard 2, Steffes. Saves: F – Emmett 3; L – Long 15. Half: F, 9-3.
Towson 22, Blake 6: In a Class 3A quarterfinal at fourth-seeded Blake, the fifth-seeded Generals pulled away with the last 15 goals after leading 7-6 in the second quarter.
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Towson improved to 8-1 and will travel to top-seeded C. Milton Wright for Wednesday’s semifinal game.