By Christopher Lawlor
WASHINGTON – There is a litmus test in championship games that usually decides the outcome: Whoever steps up wears the crown. I might be trite that Bullis School (Potomac, Md.) squeezed every ounce of poise, energy, stratagem, tenaciousness and experience on Tuesday night … but they did.
When the biggest prize in the high school game is on the line, team chemistry is measured. The big-time players, well, play in an extraordinary fashion. The Bullis Bulldogs were that and much more. Insert your favorite adjective and it will depict what gusto they displayed in a tournament that measures the best of the best.
Robert Schain typified the industry, creativity and patience and persistence needed. Heck, all he did was shred a defense that is used to pushing around opponents. Schain is an All-American but will live forever in Bullis athletic lore for the display he put forth: four goals and five assists.
That’s nine points!
In very few pockets can lacrosse plant the flag at midfield, proclaiming: Lacrosse is the official state team sport.
Considering the state of Maryland boasts professional sides the Orioles, Ravens and formerly the Bullets and Colts; the Preakness Stakes (or the second jewel of thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown), and the Maryland Terrapins are a booming collegiate brand.
Bullis, No. 12 in the Inside Lacrosse Top 25 High School Power Rankings, has joined the ranks of champions on a national stage. Just last weekend, the Terrapins won the NCAA Division I women’s national title. Well, Bullis, entered the rarified air too.
The view from the top is glorious and all is good in Maryland.
Bullis unleashed a run of four uninterrupted goals in the first and half and rode the hot hand of Schain to turn back previously undefeated No. 3 Salisbury (Conn.) School, 13-8, Tuesday to claim the GEICO High School Lacrosse Nationals championship before a boisterous and gold-and-blue clad crowd on a sultry evening at Catholic University’s Carlini Field.
A year ago, the Bulldogs lost to Salisbury, 12-6, in the GEICO Lacrosse Nationals semifinals. That wasn’t about to happen for a second straight year. Salisbury, which also fell in last year’s final, concluded a brilliant campaign with a sparkling 17-1 and the New England prep title.
Bullis went 22-3 but peeled off four consecutive elimination-game wins to finish the season. The victory should enable the Bulldogs to zoom up the national rankings.
For two straight years, the GEICO Lacrosse championship trophy headed north to Canada with The Hill Academy (Vaughn, Ontario), but not this time.
It’s staying on American soil and Bullis are champions and that’s a cold, hard fact.
It was billed as the best from New England against the best from the DMV. Both teams completed championship seasons, capturing league or division crowns playing against some of the top-notch schoolboy schedules in the nation.
Additionally, a combined five players from the finalists were selected for the 14th annual Under Armour All-American Lacrosse Game that will be played next month in Baltimore. Schain (Pennsylvania signee) and Bryson Shaw (an Ohio State football recruit) from Bullis and Connor Drake, Skyler Wilson and goalie Logan McNaney from Salisbury only added the pageantry of Tuesday’s star-studded final.
But Schain, who was unanimously named the game’s Most Valuable Player, was a pivotal over the course of two days, tallying six goals and six assists for 12 points. Monday he provided a spark to jump-start Bullis’ stuttering offense. Tuesday he was simply the go-to guy for the final time in a gold uniform.
In the fourth quarter, Schain sank a pair of goals when Salisbury pushed for a lifeline. However, the hardware was going to Bullis.
Towson-recruit Jonathan Bender added two goals and an assist and long-pole Tyler Kuehl collected six ground balls for the winners. Goalie Jack Fracyon halted seven shots and the Bulldogs dominated four key statistical categories: shots (37-21), ground balls (30-24), clears (10 for 10) and forced turnovers (11-8).
It adds up to a GEICO Lacrosse Nationals title.
McNaney was solid in goals for the Knights, stopping six shots and Will Farrell, Sky Wilson and Connor Drake all fired in two goals apiece.
Once the Bullis claimed the lead in the second quarter, it was in no rush. Patience was the operative word. The Bulldogs, backed by a hometown crowd, meticulously moved the ball around and waited for the right moment to engage. They held a 2-1 run of goals in the third and were up five goals, 10-5, heading in the final period.
Fracyon did not have to make a save in the opening half and kept the Knights off the scoreboard for 13 minutes, bridging the middle two quarters until Farrell netted his third goal of the tournament reducing it to 9-5, but just over a minute later Schain flipped in an acrobatic shot at point-blank range for a 10-5 Bullis lead.
Schain was certainly a pain to Salisbury.
In Monday’s entertaining semifinals, fans were treated to a pair of uber competitive games. Salisbury outlasted previously unbeaten St. Sebastian’s (Needham, Mass.), 7-6. The Crimson Knights were locked in a stalemate powering through five ties before flipping in two goals in the fourth quarter to take a 7-5 lead and advance.
Meanwhile, Bullis opened the tournament will mild upset. The Bulldogs, who entered the game on a 16-day respite after winning the Interstate Scholastic League (ISL) on May 10, regained their mojo after the break in which they trailed 8-4, tallying five straight goals to knock off top-seeded The Hill Academy (Vaughn, Ontario), 11-10. Bullis assured the tournament would crown a new champion after Hill annexed the previous two titles.
Bullis finally gained a cushion in the final minutes of the first half as Salisbury self-destructed on a penalty and turnover. With 51 seconds left, Connor Shaw ripped home a man-up goal. Following a costly miscue, the Bulldogs pounced for their eight strike of the half. This time Davis was a recipient of a Schain pass and it was 8-4 at the intermission.
Schain picked up where he left off in the semifinals, producing four assists and a goal in the opening half; Shaw and Davis each had two goals for Bullis.
Wilson and Drake each had two goals for the Knights, who were outshot by the Maryland school, 23-5, and 15-1 in the decisive second period.
In the opening five minutes of the second, the Bulldogs were up 5-3. Matt Kelly, a slippery middie, navigated through the heart of the defense, feeding Shaw on top for the goal.
Bullis established a deliberate pace in the first quarter when it was 3-3. Duke-bound Drake pumped in his 15th goal of the campaign, giving the Knights a 3-2 lead with 7:26 left. Once the Bulldogs gained possession they equalized as Spencer Hughes shot down the center of the field, dished off to Kieran Anzelone, who fired a low equalizer.
Bullis held the ball for the final two minutes but could not get a clean look as the Knights’ man defense clamped down.
Unfortunately for the Knights that opening quarter was the highlight and their last lead of the contest.
That’s because the night belonged to Bullis. It was finally time to celebrate.