Semifinal 2 – Taft vs. Culver Military

By Christopher Lawlor

WASHINGTON — Jeffery Ricciardelli and Chris Kavanagh are Taft School (Watertown, Conn.) teammates. They possess that innate chemistry that the primary goal-scorer and playmaker build through repetition on the lacrosse field.

When Ricciardelli is juking and shimmying around the goal and looking to get into position for a clear shot on goal, it’s Kavanagh waving his stick and shifting his eyes in anticipation for an exciting sequence that will result in a goal.

That was exactly what occurred on May 30. The senior attackmen, who coincidentally are headed to Notre Dame to play for head coach Kevin Corrigan in the fall, had one of the nation’s top teams spellbound in the semifinals of the fourth annual GEICO High School Lacrosse Nationals at Catholic University’s Carlini Field.

There was Ricciardelli sinking five goals against a normally steady defense and Kavanagh playing puppet master and pulling the strings for six points, including five creative assists, when the Taft, No. 11 in the Inside Lacrosse Top 25 High School Power Rankings, knocked off seasoned Culver (Ind.) Military Academy, 10-8, in its first appearance at GEICO Nationals.

After combining for 11 points in the semifinals and being named GEICO Co-Players of the Game, Ricciardelli and Kavanagh need one more night of magic on Memorial Day when the Rhinos (8-2) face No. 9 St. John’s College (Washington, D.C.) for the GEICO Nationals championship on ESPNU, 7 p.m. ET.

The win didn’t come without some late drama.

Culver’s Hadyn Sommer, who tallied four points (one goal, three assists) cut the deficit to 8-7 just over a minute into the final period. Later in the fourth, Ricciardelli flipped in his fourth and fifth goals during a 44-second span—with Kavanagh assisting once—and suddenly it was 10-7.

Andrew Macheca added his second goal of the game for the Eagles with 5:09 left, but Taft gained possession and melted off most the remaining time. The Rhinos used two fogos, Ethan Costanzo and Dash Sachs, to go 12-of-21 on faceoffs.

Senior Ryan Levy had a productive night for the winners with a hat trick and one assist, connecting on 3-of-10 shots. Ricciardelli hit on 5-of-11 of his shots and his younger brother, junior goalie Thomas Ricciardelli, collected 16 saves.

Culver, which never led, received two goals from senior middie Ty English, senior attack Braedon Saris had a goal and two assists, sophomore attack Davis Provost netted a goal and an assist and junior goalie Adam Blind made 10 saves.

The Rhinos outshot the Indianans, 38-32 and held a 16-7 groundball edge. They also successfully made 11 of 13 clearances and forced 13 turnovers and caused 10 more.

Taft settled for a two-goal cushion (8-6) after three quarters. At one point, the Rhinos were up 7-4 when Levy fed Kavanagh the marker. With less than six minutes left, Kavanagh was whistled for a non-releasable, one-minute penalty for running into the goalie. The Eagles cashed in twice when junior middie Griffin Scane and Provost scored.

Culver’s penalty woes cost them again in the third. This time Levy supplied the assist on the man-up to Kavanagh, who is headed to Notre Dame. Kavanagh then flashed into the middle where he beat Blind.

It was clear the Rhinos played a disciplined game in the first half. Heading into the semifinals, they averaged 14 goals per game. And the numbers reflected it.

The Rhinos held a decisive 20-13 shots advantage, 8-3 in groundballs and made 5-of-5 clearances. They also forced eight turnovers while committing only four. Culver hurt itself with six penalties for 4 ½ minutes.

Macheca’s left-handed shot found the back of the cage, reducing Culver’s deficit to one goal in the second.

Jeffery Ricciardelli completed his hat trick for his 37th marker of the campaign with 3:37 left in the half and it was 4-2. With the Rhinos on the man-up and circulating the ball around the perimeter, it was only a matter of time before Kavanagh found Ricciardelli on a flash cut into the middle for the goal.

Cornell-bound long-stick Sean Fox added Taft’s fifth goal, flipping in a shot from point-blank range only 18 seconds later for the 5-2 edge at the intermission.

Taft carried a 3-1 lead into the second quarter after Jeffery Ricciardelli deposited two goals. North Carolina-bound Levy opened the scoring, his ninth of the season, on a long overhand drive at 8:02. He finished the game with 12 goals in his 10th game.

Culver’s Saris converted a hard cut leveled at 1. Jefferey Ricciardelli restored Taft’s lead with 5:43 to go, cranking in a hard, lefty wrist shot. He doubled the lead with :03 left in the quarter. The Eagles pushed hard the rest of the way but could never draw level again.

Culver (10-2), considered the nation’s top boys’ lacrosse program, played a national schedule in preparation for the GEICO Nationals. The Eagles traveled over 5,000 miles by bus this spring to fulfill their schedule. They played teams from Texas, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida. Coach Jon Birsner’s team suffered an earlier loss at No. 2 Malvern (Pa.) Prep, 14-13, in overtime on Mach 27 and beat No. 9 St. John’s College, 11-8, on March 22. The Eagles are 0-2 all-time at the GEICO Nationals.

The Eagles came to GEICO Nationals minus Under Armour All-American Jackson Gray, who in the seventh game suffered a season-ending stress fracture to his femur. Gray, a senior Duke-bound middle from San Rafael, Calif., had 33 points in 22 goals and 11 assists before the injury. — Story written by Christopher Lawlor