Published in The Chagrin Valley Times
May 19, 2016
When the Chagrin Falls boys lacrosse team starting winning faceoffs to open Friday night’s rivalry game against Kenston, all fingers pointed at trouble for the visiting Bombers over at Harris Stadium.
The Tigers were coming off a season-defining victory against Hudson, 9-8, in a triple-overtime game last Tuesday, despite losing 21 of 22 battles at the X in that contest. Not to mention, Chagrin overcome a 7-2 deficit from early in the third quarter.
“Well, we have no starting faceoff man,” Chagrin junior defenseman Connor Orzen said. “We’re all just on the faceoff trying to force a turnover, because we actually have no faceoff guy that’s a FOGO. So we just try to stop the fast break and cause a turnover on the FOGO.”
A FOGO is a specialist whose sole job is to “face off” and “get off” the field.
Sophomore attackman Mark McGinley scored the winning goal, off an assist from senior middy Brett Sooy, in that triple-overtime thriller, and he seemed to pick right up where he left off with the first goal of the game against Kenston.
Fellow sophomore attackman Kaeden Kalinyak scooped up a ground ball off a shot deflection and then assisted McGinley on a side-arm rip that he buried near post in the first minute of action.
“Kenston is always the rivalry, the biggest game of the year,” McGinley said. “And most of our games have started out slow this season, so getting the first one was big. We started out hot, and we were really hoping that would provide us the tempo we needed in the first half.”
Chagrin’s Orzen proceeded to win the first three faceoffs of the game, but four Tiger turnovers and three saves by Kenston junior goalie Simon Coughlin had the visiting Bombers leading, 2-1, at the quarter mark.
Kenston junior middy Norman Kubbins picked up a ground ball off sophomore attackman Brian Apshago’s shot and buried the 1-1 equalizer, and then senior midfielder Kyle Apshago netted a broomstick rocket from 15 yards out.
After that, Kenston sophomore faceoff specialist Dillon Beal started to find his groove and Chagrin’s offense was amidst a 16-minute slumber.
“There’s a little feeling-out process in every game, and it just took us a little while to catch our rhythm,” Chagrin head coach Crispin Napolitano said. “And then, once we did, we were able to figure out where we wanted to attack, and we kind of exploited that a little bit.”
That “little bit” entailed a four-goal spree in the second frame for the Tigers, despite five consecutive faceoff losses to Beal.
After a Coughlin save, Kenston got hung up on a failed clear thanks to the ride of Chagrin senior middy Billy Lingafelter, who regathered the possession and found senior attackman Garrett Bontempo wide open on the far post for a point-blank tally in transition and the 2-2 equalizer.
“When we can score against an unsettled defense, it’s huge,” Bontempo said. “We have a bunch of athletes on our team, so it’s easy to get that going. Our long-pole middies are very quick. They’ve got good ball movement. They’ve got good stick skills. And it’s just really easy to get open, and they’re always there on the feed.”
McGinley went on to score his second and third goals of the evening, the latter assisted by Sooy on a catch-and-shoot overlap pattern, for the 4-2 Tiger lead with 3:45 to play before intermission.
Then, with 1:25 to go in the half, sophomore middy Aiden Stephens made it a 5-2 Tiger advantage when he somehow busted through a collapsing Bomber triangle and released a shot while diving across the crease. He was assisted on the inside by McGinley.
“The first quarter, you know, I don’t think we took very good care of the ball,” McGinley said. “The second quarter, we settled down the offense, we got our defense some rest, got quality possessions, and that led to good goals.”
Kenston was able to grab some of the momentum back with eight seconds left in the half, when the younger Apshago assisted sophomore attackman Jack Rogers for a top-shelf tally, 5-3.
Rogers struck again to open the third quarter with a feed in the crease from senior attackman Jack Goldsword on a series that ignited off a save and clear by Coughlin, cutting the Bombers’ deficit, 5-4.
“This is always a good game,” coach Napolitano said. “Regardless of what it says on paper, both teams play really, really well against each other. So that was our talk in the locker room, that it’s going to be a lot of hustle and a lot of grit, and that’s exactly what it was. So we tried to pull away, but we couldn’t pull away.”
From there, the Tigers’ zone defense of Orzen, junior Pierce Fricke and senior James Grady picked shifted to another gear, paving way for senior goalie Jackson Markley to tab a dozen of his 17 saves in the second half.
Amidst a 14-7 loss to University School on April 29, a 10-9 overtime loss to Massillon Jackson on May 4 and a pair of concussions to key players, Chagrin added a few wrinkles to its packages around the pipes.
“We were having trouble with the back cutters and ball watching, so we changed up our slide rotation, and it worked,” Orzen said. “We have a man in the middle sliding, and that’s all we needed. So we knew we were going to pull it off in the end, but we needed to do it as a team.”
Holding Kenston scoreless for a nine-minute stretch in the second half after that 5-4 tally allowed the Tigers to go on a three-goal spree with Bontempo assisting senior middy Alex Baker and Kalinyak on point-blank tallies and then scoring himself at point-blank range on an assist from McGinley in transition to give the Chagrin an 8-4 advantage with 9:54 to play.
At that point, the Tigers felt poised for the victory, Napolitano said.
“If you’re on the right side of the wave, if you can capitalize on momentum and it’s quick when it happens, it changes the whole feel of the game,” he said. “And for us to be able to do that was huge. It puts you in a position where everybody is confident with the ball in their stick, and we don’t feel like we have to rush the ball to the net and make a bad pass.”
After Kenston’s Kubbins answered, Bontempo collected a third assist in the half, when he redialed Baker for a top-shelf rip and a 9-5 Chagrin upper hand with 6:11 to play.
“Yeah, I was looking to shoot, but I like to feed my teammates a lot,” Bontempo said. “That’s one attribute that I like about myself. Shots weren’t falling early for me, so I figured I’d just put it on the shoulders of my teammates, and they answered the call, and they came to play.”
The younger Apshago fired back with a dunk shot, assisted by Rogers, for the 9-6 score with 5:59 to play, which turned out to be the eventual game final.
Chagrin ended its regular season at 12-2, while Kenston dipped to 5-9.
“Senior year, it’s huge to get a win in the rivalry game,” Bontempo said. “It means a lot to our program, especially our coaches.”
The Tigers drew the No. 2 seed in the 17-team Division II Northeast Region of the Ohio High School Lacrosse Association playoffs and will host either St. Vincent-St. Mary or Canton Central Catholic at 7 p.m. Thursday.
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