By Christopher Lawlor
WASHINGTON – The narrative was simple: Two unbeaten powerhouse programs from New England—something had to give.
In a game featuring five ties and more turn than a mountain pass in the Rockies, unbeaten Salisbury (Conn.) School gained a two-goal cushion in the fourth quarter and held off a hard-charging St. Sebastian’s School (Needham, Mass.), 7-6, Monday night in the semifinals of the third annual GEICO High School Lacrosse Nationals at Catholic University’s Carlini Field.
The schools rarely if ever play despite their proximities about 150 miles and a state line separating the New England Preparatory School Athletic Council (NEPSAC) all-male institutions.
It was a competitive game right to the end—perhaps the most evenly matched in the three-year history of the national event.
After playing the initial GEICO Lacrosse Nationals at Cardinal Stadium, the action shifted at the newly renovated and dedicated multi-use venue with FieldTurf, a synthetic surface. The field played quicker overall.
The Crimson Knights, No. 3 in the Inside Lacrosse Top 25 High School Power Rankings, face 21-3 Bullis School (Potomac, Md.) for the GEICO Lacrosse Nationals championship game Tuesday at 7 p.m. EDT on ESPNU. St. Sebastian’s concluded 18-1 in its third trip here.
Salisbury improved to 17-0.
The game was indicative of a championship affair, where both teams trades haymakers and did not allow any breathing room until finally the Crimson Knights landed a pair of successive goals in the midway through the final period.
Connor Drake’s marker with 5:17 left gave Salisbury a 7-5 and proved to be the game-winner from Sky Wilson. Drake took only two shots but sank one with the game in the balance.
The Arrows reduced the deficit one for the final time with just over a minute remaining as Declan Maguire scored unassisted but the Connecticut school corralled a ground ball on the ensuing faceoff from X and killed the final 66 seconds.
Logan McNaney rejected six shots in goal for the winners while his counterpart, Mac Fotiades, stopped seven.
Wilson had a goal and two assists for three points while Neill and Will Farrell collected two goals apiece. Brian Piatelli paced the Arrows with a goal and two helpers.
The stat line was nearly identical across the board—both teams had 25 shots and seven saves. Salisbury made 12 of 13 clearances compared to 11 of 12 for the Arrows. Ultimately Drake’s goal was the thinnest margin of victory.
The game turned with just under seven minutes to play.
Neill, who tallied a tying goal in the third, came back with his second that gave the Crimson Knights a 6-5 lead with 6:45 left.
One of the niftiest goals of the evening gave the back-and-forth game its fifth tie when Neill used a split dodge to move in front of the crease. Neill pinballed off three defenders and slashed a shot into the back of the net at 2:03 and the game was headed into the fourth quarter square at 5.
Cornell-bound Piatelli gave St. Sebs a temporary 5-4 edge at 3:03 only 29 seconds after Cusack gave his team the lead.
Thomas McIntyre restored Salisbury’s lead at 5:08, ripping home a shot and it was 4-3 with the pace quickening.
For a team that rarely trailed all season, it took more than two quarters and nearly 30 minutes of play before Salisbury went up 3-2 at 7:15 of the third.
Farrell hammered home his second of the game from senior Miles Bollman. But the good times faded less than two minutes later when junior Jake Cusack tied it at 3 for the Arrows.
The second quarter mirrored the first with both defenses dictating the action. St. Sebs grabbed their second lead of the night off the stick of Ted Harrington and Liam Ford provided the assist at 8:15.
The script remained the same with the Crimson Knights forging a 2-all tie when Williams dropped a marker from Maryland-recruit Dawson Wynne, who had two for the game.
The teams exchanged goals in the first, as it was 1-1. All-American Michael Swirbalus converted a pass from Tommy Armstrong at 4:56 for the opening strike.
Senior middie Farrell had a response with 1:50 left from Wilson and it was knotted up for the first of five occasions.
The Arrows felt the attack but had 8 of 10 clearances and led in ground balls 8-6. The Knights outshot St. Sebs, 13-10, taking nine shots on cage in the second frame. The draws were even at 3 of 6 apiece.
In the lead-up to the GEICO Lacrosse Nationals, the No. 13-ranked Arrows narrowly escaped with a 9-8 victory over rivals Roxbury (Mass.) Latin School on May 22, preserving the unblemished ledger.
Salisbury, which chalked up the program’s first-ever perfect regular season by defeating Choate-Rosemary Hall (Conn.), 9-5 on May 22, captured the Western New England Division I title.
Something had to give and it was the Crimson Knights pushing onto the GEICO final and one win from perfection and a national crown.