From the short-stick middies on down, the Hawks defense hounded L-S all night long
ALLSTON - All season long, and particularly over the course of the past month, Xaverian's players and coaches kept reinforcing a simple tenet to themselves over and over again - if we can play six-on-six lacrosse, we can play with anyone.
The coaches preached it and the players bought in. Throughout the postseason, the Hawks executed that ideal to near perfection. The end result turned out to be the first state championship in program history.
Jack Wheeler led the way with four goals, Eric Backus added a pair and the defense came through with yet another in a recent string of standout performances as No. 7 Xaverian systematically and methodically took apart top seed Lincoln-Sudbury for a 9-5 victory in the Div. 1 state final at Harvard Stadium Wednesday night.
"What I was preaching all week was stop transition play, play them six-on-six and once we get to six on six, play the body," Xaverian coach Tim Gardner explained. "Try not to let them pass it around and possess and don't give them a lot of space when they drive. They drive every single game you go to; they drive and find something on the back pipe."
"We were just preaching team defense, get a body on body, don't let them see the back side of the field and try to prevent easy goals," Gardner continued. "Make them have to earn each and every goal. The kids stuck to the plan and they did a great job."
Elijah Jolly (31) was one of several key contributors to Xaverian's defensive effort
The Hawks (16-6) defensive quartet of Rob Breed, Chris Ciolfi, Joe Gaziano and Elijah Jolly strapped on their hard hats and showed up for work early, keeping the high-powered Warriors (18-3) offense off the scoreboard for the first 13:19 of the game.
"The entire playoffs we've been working on team defense and that's really where we're strongest," Breed said. "Six-on-six we feel like we can beat anybody so we tried to do everything we could to limit transition goals and I think we did a great job of that and six-on-six, we shut them down."
Their offensive teammates did their part as well, with Wheeler scoring twice and Backus and Lukas Buckley adding the others during a 4-0 run to start the game. Lincoln-Sudbury tried to gain a foothold in the momentum department as Dan Delaney and Jordan Dow both connected just over a minute apart. D.J. Sperzel added another but L-S got what looked to be a big goal as John Merwin struck with just 30 seconds left in the first half, cutting the Xaverian lead to 5-3 at the break.
Matt Hall (42) celebrates a Lincoln-Sudbury goal
Merwin kept the momentum going, burying a nice feed from Dow just 1:37 into the third quarter, but Wheeler and Eric Hoffman both tallied to extend the Hawks lead to 7-4 late in the frame. In between those goals, Hawks goalie Jay Pourbaix came through with a pair of clutch saves on L-S shots from within five yards of the cage.
"When we pushed it, we scored I'd say most of the time," Wheeler said. "We were finding the back of the net and most of our shots were on net. When we dodged down the alley, we had a bunch of goals off of alley dodges. We kind of just pushed it and when it worked out for us we kept pushing it."
Chris Giorgio put home one for L-S with 2:21 left in the third, but that would be the last time the Warriors would make the scoreboard blink as the Xaverian defense clamped down and shut them out over the game's final 14:21. Scores from Wheeler and Backus in the fourth put the game out of reach, the latter coming with 3:10 remaining.
"We knew how their offense really generated through the middies and how good their attack was feeding the ball," Ciolfi said. "So we wanted to press out, not let the attackmen get their hands feed those midfielders like they did (in a 10-5 loss to L-S during the regular season). We really knew we had to press out and play them to get the ball back to our offense."
Xaverian's Eric Backus (9) scored twice and defends here against Dan Delaney (30)
Because of the Hawks defensive work, Lincoln-Sudbury simply never had a chance to get itself going.
"I don't feel like we ever got into rhythm but I feel like it was because of them," said L-S coach Brian Vona in praise of Xaverian. "I really feel like they played that well and they never let us get into a rhythm tonight. When we did have a couple and then we lost the ball...I dont how many times we turned the ball over tonight but again, that wasn't just us turning the ball over. They helped us turn the ball over. They did a really good job on us tonight."
The Hawks had come close twice before, reaching the state finals in both 2006 and 2007 but succumbed to Duxbury both times. The program endured its struggles over the past three years, winning just six games in both 2010 and 2011 and finishing at .500 last spring.
An April stretch that saw the club drop four of five games while playing without injured midfielders Sperzel and Liam Driscoll (who later returned to action) could have sent Xaverian into a tailspin from which they couldn't recover. Instead, the club used the hardships to bring them together into a unit that won 13 of its last 15 games, captured the Catholic Conference title and ultimately, the biggest prize of them all.
"Its your primary goal every time, every preseason, that;'s the light at the end of the tunnel is being here," Gardner said. "You work for this day and you hope it can happen. We've gotten close before and to win this game against that team, which is a special thing because Lincoln-Sudbury really had a special team this year, to win it in this fashion is pretty remarkable."
"All the credit to the guys for their hard work and not giving up, not backing down when they started coming back a little bit and points in the season where it looked like we could have gone downhill," he continued. "We made a decision to step up and improve every single day."
Breed added perhaps the most poignant quote of the evening, asemmingly choking back his emotions as he said, "This team is my family. I'll stand by that. I love every one of these guys like my brothers. The Xaverian motto: classmates for four years, brothers for life. I live by that."
Photography credit: Matt Noonan