After a close three quarters, the Churchill Bulldogs boys varsity lacrosse team (15-1) lambasted the Whitman Vikings (11-4), 10-3 in the MPPSSA regional semifinals at Churchill Stadium on Monday evening.
Bulldogs junior attacker Ryan Leonard (3 goals) said of the win, “We always have a chip on our shoulder playing against Whitman. They’re our rivals. So, we knew we wanted to come in and win.”
Bulldogs senior goalie Alex Crombie credited the win on the Bulldogs’ team energy, saying, “We all came out just as we would in a playoff game. Against Wootton we came out with a lot of energy. Tonight was no different. It mostly started on the defensive end. We brought a lot of energy. Although our offense had a slow start. I thought the energy resonated. They picked up as the game went on. They feed off it. A lot of our success came off the energy we had.”
Bulldogs head coach Jeff Fritz explained the win as follows: “The first quarter, fourth quarter I thought we did very well possessing the ball. It starts off with winning the faceoffs, getting to the ground balls and when we had the ball in our own field, we were able to clear the ball. We weren’t able to clear well in the second and third quarters which led to multiple possessions in a row for Whitman. Allowing them to hang around. They made the game closer for a bit. Once we were able to control the ball, then, in the fourth quarter, we got to pull away a little bit.…the fourth quarter we had much more possession and much more goals. The fourth quarter won it for us.”
At the end of three quarters, the score was Bulldogs 6, Vikings 2. Yet, in the final period, the Bulldogs would control both the offensive and defensive zones. Scoring three quick goals, the Bulldogs increased their lead, 9-2.
Whitman head coach Tommy Rothert said of the Bulldogs, “I thought they played well. They play discipline, they play smart and they take possessions and they lull you to sleep and offensively put it in the back of the net. Defensively, they got a great goalie in A.C…. who hasn’t given up more than five or six goals in the county. So, it’s tough to do anything against that.”
In the first quarter, a turnover by Bulldogs senior goalie Alex Crombie led the Vikings on a fast break. Junior midfielder Chris Cahill outraced the Bulldogs goalie and scored at the 8:43 mark.
Vikings head coach Tommy Rothert saying, “He’s a junior. He stepped up in a big situation. We’re a very old, experienced team and used to playing in games like this and we came out hot. We just couldn’t hold on there, they’re a very talented squad.”
The Bulldogs would have a response at the 7:41 mark. Bulldogs junior defender Jack Taylor (1 goal) scored to tie the game at 1.
Bulldogs senior attacker Spencer Knife (2 goals) scored at the 2:30 mark. Leonard scored at the 2:06 mark and it looked like a Bulldogs romp was on.
However, the Bulldogs’ attack went cold. Whitman responded with three seconds left in the second quarter. Cahill’s second goal of the game made the score 4-2 going into halftime.
In the fourth, Bulldogs junior attacker Brady Altabello got in the act with two goals.
Altabello said of the Bulldogs’ attack, “It kind of started off slow. We didn’t do much on offense. We didn’t control the ball well. Coming towards the second half…we started controlling the pace of the game…”
Fritz said of Altabello, “Brady Altabello, a midfielder, junior. He creates very well, but he is a very good finisher. We put him in the crease tonight and he knows how to find the open space and we have the two attackers in Ryan and Spencer that can find him anytime and all you have to do is find him and Brady finishes all the time. Plays real well inside.”
Other key performers included Leonard and Knife as Fritz said, “Ryan Leonard had a fantastic night tonight. Spencer Knife is a senior, our go-to attack man. And Leonard is a junior. Both going to play at Towson. So, people been focusing on Spencer so much that Ryan normally draws that second defender and he moves very well, he changes direction well and he’s got great vision. He really had a couple good games here...stepping up here at the end of the year. Whole bunch of feeds and whole bunch of goals as well.”
Also, freshman midfielder Merrick Willeford, who missed the first month of the season with mono, willed his Bulldogs to the victory by winning all but one of the faceoffs for the evening.
Altabello thought Willeford was a big part of the Bulldogs’ win, saying, “Faceoffs were a big part of it. I think we lost maybe one…He’s done pretty well this year. Stepping up big this year. We had a big faceoff guy leave last year.”
Fritz said of Willeford, “Number one is a freshman, Merrick Willeford, who is super athletic. He’s a good faceoff man. Even when he doesn’t win the clamp, the possession, he makes it a dogfight. And, with the wing play that we have, we usually come out with the ball. He’s an absolute warrior as a freshman. He keeps getting better and better every game. He’s a big contributor to our success this year.”
Vikings senior midfielder Douglas Bruchalski scored in the waning minutes.
Rothert said, “We played a little bit too much defense. They were able to put the ball in the back of the net. We got in trouble defensively and the penalty box.”
As for Crombie, he seems to be a star of the Bulldogs this season having only allowed a handful of goals. Crombie has an interesting philosophy to goaltending, saying, “The funny thing is during the course of a game I don’t keep track of the amount of saves I make. The first time I learn of it is when my coach tells me or when I open my phone and get the stats. I forget about it. Just as I forget about the goals I let in. That’s the big part of it. The thing is, I might get upset initially if I let in a goal but the important thing is for a goalie just to not dwell on it. I just constantly see what I can do for the next block. I forget about the negatives. And even forget about the positives. That’s why I don’t keep track of saves.”
Fritz explaining the play of his Bulldog goalies, “…We talk to our goalies all the time that the most important shot of the game is the next one. You got to have a short memory as a goalie. Whether you make a great save or you let a goal in, it really doesn’t matter…move forward and you can’t dwell on what happened. Whether it’s good or bad you got to take that next shot on as the most important shot of the game. So, next play, attitude.”
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