Poly boys lacrosse coach Phil Thompson doesn’t hesitate in calling the Engineers’ defense the heart of the team.
In Monday’s Baltimore City championship game against rival City, the unit showed why.
Trailing early, the Engineers hunkered down impressively, keeping the Knights from scoring for a stretch that lasted over three quarters.
With sophomore Bowen Valery igniting the attack — enjoying a two-goal, one-assist performance — Poly had just enough to come away with a 6-5 win over the Knights at Dunbar.
It was Poly’s fourth league crown and first since 2014.
One by one, Thompson proudly named his defensive unit — seniors Dylan Buise, Roman Dombrowski, junior Nathan Gordon and freshman goalie Jacob Harburger, who shined with eight saves.
“Man, I love my guys on defense,” Thompson said.
Poly needed overtime to claim an 8-7 win in the teams’ regular-season meeting April 19 and CIty looked primed to avenge the loss on Monday.
After falling behind 1-0, the Knights got goals from Ben Riga, Benjamin Caplan, James Lane and Ansen Park to claim a 4-1 lead with 9:18 to play in the second quarter.
The Knights successfully fended off three minutes of penalty time throughout the second quarter to maintain the three-goal lead, then Engineers’ attack got on track behind Valery. He scored with 25 seconds left until the half and then again with 2.7 seconds left to cut the lead to 4-3.
The breakthrough proved vital.
“They were pretty quick, just ground balls from midfield and fast-break goals. I think it really built up the team’s morale and we got back into the game,” he said. “Everyone really helped out, the defense did great. They really saved us a couple times. This was my first year playing in the City championship because of COVID last year, and I’m just really happy and I want to do it again next year.”
Buise and the senior class lost in the title game as freshmen and then lost the next two seasons due to the pandemic. So while the Engineers had taken away the momentum before halftime, the message was clear.
“Coming into halftime, they [were still] up a little bit and we told each other we have to strap in and figure it out because, at the end of the day, a loss wouldn’t be acceptable,” he said. “It’s kind of surreal. We had two years off due to COVID — it was a bummer — and freshman year we came, but we lost. So for me to get back here my senior year and get a dub, it feels really good.”
At the start of the third quarter, Poly picked up where it left off, tying the game at 4 when Darryl Spence scored in front off a feed by Valery less than a minute into play. After Tyson Miller gave the Engineers their first lead at 5-4 a little more than a minute later, they added an insurance goal from Harrison Yezzi with 2:28 to play in the quarter for a 6-4 lead.
Harburger, a soccer goalie who took up lacrosse this spring, came up big in the closing minutes to protect the lead. He made a point-blank save on a doorstep shot by Benjamin Caplan with 3:35 to play. After James Lane scored his second goal of the game to end City’s extended drought — pulling the Knights within a goal with 2:30 to play — Harburger made one final save shortly after. The Knights had the ball with 45 seconds to play, but Dombrowski got a takeaway with Miller grabbing the ground ball to give the Engineers the ball to run off the final time.
“We started a little slow and then in the second quarter, we pretty much came together,” Thompson said. “I just asked them a question: ‘You say you want to win a championship, so what are we doing to show that we want to be champions?’ They woke up and we got it to one and we took it to half and we talked about the corrections we needed to do as a team and individually. And then we pulled it together.”
For City, Park finished with one goal and two assists and goalie Abraham Caplan making seven stops. City coach Anthony “Merc” Ryan was direct in his response to what the difference in the game was.
“They wanted it more,” he said. “So you have to take your hats off for the half they had — it was a good job. We had the skills and the experience out there, so we need to be able to put it all together and get our feet under us and make sure we can come out here in competition like this and win.”
Goals: C—Lane 2, Park, Caplan, Riga;
P—Stanley, Valery 2, Miller, Spence, H. Yezzi
Assists: C—Park 2, N. Yezzi 2;
P—H. Yezzi, Valery
Saves: C—A. Caplan 7;
Half: C, 4-3