Franklin’s Vail Looking to Get Pride On Track This Spring

Jack Vail
Former Franklin standout and HockomockSports.com Player of the Year Jack Vail (14) is looking to follow up an all-NEWMAC season with a strong senior campaign at Springfield College. (Springfield College Athletics)

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Things haven’t started exactly as planned for the Springfield College men’s lacrosse team through the opening four games of the new season. The Pride are 1-3 after four games, but senior attacker Jack Vail is confident that the team, which received votes in national preseason polls, is capable of challenging for the NEWMAC title.

“Our main focus is just to work really hard on ourselves and competing against each every single day,” Vail explained in a conversation ahead of last weekend’s trip to Union College (N.Y.). “We’ve been definitely working hard to improve and just keep getting better every day.”

Through four games, Vail is fourth on the team with four goals and seven points, but his role as a senior and as a captain is bigger than just scoring. A former Hockomock League MVP and two-time HockomockSports.com Player of the Year at Franklin, Vail is also the leader of the attacking unit and he takes that responsibility seriously.

“I’m able to be a more vocal presence and mold the team into what we want it to be as a senior class,” he said. When asked how it felt to be selected as the captain by his teammates, Vail replied, “It was a great feeling. I’ve always aspired to be in those leadership roles, so being voted captain was a satisfying feeling.”

The leadership role is one that Vail has developed in his four years in Springfield. He only played three games as a freshman, which was a big adjustment for someone who was an automatic selection every game in high school.

He admitted, “ I definitely thought, at times, that I could be out there and making an impact but just being a part of a college-level team you get a much deeper bond than you would on your average high school team, so I was able to understand my role and be really working on the scout team and getting better every day.”

Looking back now, he recognizes that his freshman year was a positive learning experience to help him get acclimated to the speed and physicality of the college game. Vail jumped in as a sophomore and made a big impact, scoring 32 goals and recording 16 assists. Last spring, he scored 26 goals and had 30 assists to earn first team all-conference honors.

If Vail puts together similar numbers this spring, it will see him jump into the top 20 all-time in career goals, points, and assists. Not that he is too worried about that right now.

“I’ve never really been a big listener to all-conference awards and hype and stuff like that,” he said. “I’ve just been focused on my team and getting better and winning games. Just making sure I can be the best player for my team and helping everyone around me get better.”

That attitude was put into place early on, as Vail was part of the early stages of the Franklin youth lacrosse programs, which now regularly produces college-level talent and has helped the Panthers dominate the Hockomock in recent years. In high school, Vail was a dynamic scorer, with 55 goals and 38 assists his senior season, and his six goals against Xaverian (five in the second half) helped Franklin get past the Hawks and into the Div. 1 South semifinal for the first time in program history.

“There’s definitely a lot of great memories associated with those years,” he said. “Being able to have that bond with those guys all these years later and also being able to look at the program now and all those kids who were just coming up and are now big contributors and senior leaders.”

There has been a Franklin pipeline to Springfield College in recent years. Vail was introduced to head coach Keith Bugbee and learned more about the program thanks to family friend and Springfield alum Jake Versprille. Now, Vail is connecting other Panthers to the program, including current Springfield sophomore Packie Watson and freshman Kyle McEniry (North Attleboro grad Thomas Lindstrom is also a freshman at Springfield).

“It being a great fit for Jake, I knew it would be a great fit for me,” Vail said. “Going back to Franklin and seeing kids who I think would be a good fit here, like Packie and Kyle, just really kids who would buy into the program and be hard workers and then get the opportunity to meet with Coach Bugbee and eventually come here has been great, keeping that pipeline alive.”

The Pride have reached the NCAA tournament for 11 straight seasons and, despite a tough start, Vail believes that the team can get things in order to be playing its best lacrosse when NEWMAC play kicks off at the end of March.

“I just want our team to be as close as we can be and have the most fun we can,” he said. “By doing that, the wins will sort of take care of themselves. If you can continue to get better every day then play your best lacrosse in the late season then hopefully you can make a deep playoff run and that’s all we want.”

As a senior closing out his lacrosse career, it is no surprise that Vail emphasizes fun as well as results. He is trying to enjoy his last few months on the lacrosse field.

“You’ve definitely got to take a step back and think about how far you’ve come in these four years,” he explained. “They have sort of flown by and I have so many great memories associated with them. Being an in-season college athlete, it’s a really fast-paced schedule, so you need to find time to take it all in before it all ends.”

Springfield College will be back in action on Saturday with a trip to Endicott College.

2018 HockomockSports.com Boys Lacrosse Awards

Click here for the 2018 HockomockSports.com Boys Lacrosse Awards

2018 Hockomock League Boys Lacrosse All Stars

Below are the official 2018 Hockomock League Boys Lacrosse All Stars, selected by the coaches in the league.

Hockomock League MVP

Jake Addeche, Foxboro

Hockomock League All Stars

Trevor Koppy, Attleboro
Griffin Roach, Canton
Jake Addeche, Foxboro
Pete Conley, Foxboro
Patrick Kaveny, Foxboro
Louis Piccolo, Foxboro
Patrick Stapleton, Foxboro
Brendan Tully, Foxboro
Jacob Alexander, Franklin
Nitin Chaudhury, Franklin
Eric Civetti, Franklin
Jake Davis, Franklin
Pat Morrison, Franklin
Connor O’Rourke, Franklin
Trevor Raffin, Franklin
Chase Tanner, Franklin
Michael Curtin, King Philip
Colin DeVellis, King Philip
Thomas Donnelly, Mansfield
Hunter Ferreira, Mansfield
Max Fontes, North Attleboro
Tom Lindstrom, North Attleboro
Eric LeBlanc, Oliver Ames

Honorable Mentions:
Kyle Henry, Attleboro
Dan Cohen, Canton
Bobby Yerardi, Foxboro
Kyle McEniry, Franklin
Nate Minkwitz, King Philip
Daniel DeGirolamo, Mansfield
Andrew Gallagher, Milford
Jason McNeany, North Attleboro
Shane Kilkelly, Oliver Ames
Johnathan Greenberg, Sharon
Thomas Ratcliff, Stoughton
Dylan Nichols, Taunton

Walpole Pulls Away Late To Beat North Attleboro

By David James, HockomockSports.com Contributor

WALPOLE, Mass. — North Attleboro gave a perennial state power in Walpole all it could handle, but the Rebels put together a late run to end the game, earning a 7-4 win.

North’s staunch defense put together one of its most impressive performances of the year, forcing Walpole into an uncharacteristically low scoring affair. Time after time Big Red forced shots that went way off the cage, and goaltender Jake McNeany (10 saves) was everywhere for the state’s fifth-best scoring defense.

Senior captain Jason McNeany (three goals) saved one of his best performances for last, winning 11 out of 15 faceoffs to give North the chances it needed, as well as being the game’s leading scorer.

Fans of a defensive battle were in for a treat as 10 minutes passed before a shot on net took place when Walpole’s Thomas Shea opened up the scoring for the Rebels. There would be only one more shot on cage, as well as nine combined turnovers throughout the first, leaving the score at 1-0.

The second quarter saw both offenses settle down, but had a similar result. Cullen McGlynn had the lone tally making it 2-0 for the Rebels halfway through the quarter. North had chances to respond, as Walpole picked up a penalty with 1:35 remaining in the half, but hit the post twice. Walpole goalie Joseph McGrath made four saves in the quarter and kept the score at 2-0 going into the half.

Importantly for Big Red though, Walpole was hit with another penalty with just three seconds left on the clock. Carrying a man advantage into the second half, Jason McNeany won the faceoff, hit teammate Tommy Lindstrom (two assists), who gave it right back to McNeany, who buried the man-up ripper from straight on to give North their first goal of the game.

Both offenses went back and forth as Walpole’s Kyle Hirshom responded to make it a two-goal game again, quickly followed up by Andy DeMattio’s goal off a nifty feed from Nick Ward. Two minutes later Lindstrom was able to draw a penalty and find McNeany again, who scored on the continuation and tied the game, 3-3.

Unphased by the momentum, UMass Lowell commit Conor Foley was able to put one in the back of the net 30 seconds later to silence the North crowd.

Walpole got just the break they needed to steal all the momentum one minute into the fourth quarter. After a Jake McNeany save, a scrum formed in front of the net. After 10 seconds of fighting for it, Foley was able to poke it loose and hockey slap shot it into the back of the net, making it 5-3 in favor of Walpole.

Ryan Birch scored the Rebels’ sixth of the game to extend the lead to three with eight minutes to play. McNeany willed his way through a Walpole defender to make it a two-goal game again but two back-to-back North penalties and excellent goaltending by McGrath would make that the last opportunity for a comeback.

After North’s defense killed off a six on four penalty kill, McGlynn was able to add an insurance goal to make it 7-4, which would stand for the remainder of the game.

Although not the way the Rocketeers (15-5) wanted to end their season, they have plenty to hang their hats on, as they exceeded all expectations for this year. Replacing their entire starting offense from last year other than Lindstrom, as well as 2017 Hockomock League MVP goaltender Dan MacDonald, is no small task. Big Red proved that they’re at a point where they don’t have to rebuild, they reload.

Still a relatively young program, North has come a long way in 11 years. A program that had just eight wins in its first four years when head coach Kevin Young took over has now strung together 31 wins in the last two years, and everything is trending up for Big Red, as a boatload of talented underclassmen with lots of experience return to next year’s roster.

Tough Quarter Ends Foxboro Playoff Run in Opener

Foxboro boys lacrosse
Foxboro senior Mike Moses (12) drives on his defender during the second quarter of the Div. 2 Central/East quarterfinal. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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FOXBORO, Mass. – Foxboro is a team that prides itself on defense and limiting opposition chances and in Thursday night’s Div. 2 Central/East quarterfinal against Concord-Carlisle at Sam Berns Community Field the Warriors were typically stout for three quarters.

It was the one quarter where things broke down that ended up being the difference.

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

The visiting Patriots scored five unanswered goals in the second to break open a tie game and take control before halftime. That quarter proved decisive, as Foxboro (15-4) held Concord-Carlisle to only two goals in the second half (and none in the fourth) but could not find a way back into the game and saw the season come to a close with a 9-6 loss.

“I’m just proud of the boys and the way they battled all year,” said Foxboro coach Matt Noone after taking time to speak with each player and give each player a hug following the final huddle.

He added, “There was a time where I thought they (Concord-Carlisle) were going to separate and at the time I said to the guys, ‘we’re fighting for our lives,’ and they did. I couldn’t be prouder of them for that.”

The Warriors got off to a rough start when, three minutes in, senior Patrick Kaveny’s cross-field pass on a clear was intercepted. Foxboro was subbing players at the time and the Patriots were handed a three-on-none break that was eventually finished off for a 1-0 lead.

“We had some poor turnovers, some poor quality shots,” Noone said. “We can’t give teams like that chances. It wasn’t one thing, but we can’t give teams second chances or freebies, especially not in the playoffs.”

That lasted only a minute before sophomore Bobby Yerardi found the back of the net with an overhand shot on the run to tie it. With two minutes left in the first, the Patriots regained the lead but again Yerardi had the answer, turning the corner and ripping a shot under the bar with 42 seconds on the clock.

While the teams combined for four goals in the first 12 minutes, Concord-Carlisle came out strong in the second and scored four times in the first four minutes.

Foxboro did have a few chances offensively in the second, but not many. Louis Piccolo, Foxboro’s top scorer in the regular season, was pretty tightly marked by Henry Nelson all game but he got free with five minutes left to the break only to have his shot ricochet off the helmet of Patriots goalie Ben Kacher. Sophomore Shayne Kerrigan had a good chance four minutes later but that was also saved.

With only 21 seconds left in the half, Foxboro had a rare breakdown defensively. Robert Doherty shook a pair of markers and wound up before unleashing a rocket past Foxboro goalie Jake Addeche.

“They had some great looks,” said Noone of the second quarter struggles. “Our game plan was to force the middies into the middle so Jake could get a better look. We didn’t want to let them down the alley and we were letting them go. We talked about our game plan and started forcing them down the middle and doing a better job.”

The momentum was with the visiting team at the break and it continued in the third quarter when Alexi Hunt fired a shot past Addeche to make it six straight for the Patriots. Foxboro responded right away to stop the bleeding. Kerrigan won the face-off and Mike Collins scored with a running shot to make it 8-3.

Foxboro also went man-up following the goal and the Warriors took advantage. Brendan Tully finally got his hands free and rifled a shot into the corner to get back within four.

Two minutes later, Addeche stopped a bouncing shot and appeared ready to break up the ice but play was halted for a two-minute, locked-in penalty against the Warriors. Matt Moreau found space in the middle and scored with a bouncer to make it 9-4, but Kerrigan won the ensuing face-off and allowed the Warriors to run out the penalty. It was a momentum-builder for Foxboro and the players seemed energized when Ronnie MacLellan put in a good check to force an errant pass, raced up field in transition, drew a penalty, and forced a save out of Kacher.

The defense continued to be strong to the final whistle with Patrick Stapleton, Will Morrison, Kaveny, and MacLellan locking down the shooters and Addeche getting stronger as the game wore on.

In the fourth, Piccolo finally got going. He beat his man to the left and scored with an overhand shot for his first of the night to make it 9-5 with 8:31 left. Exactly four minutes later, he twisted and turned his marker before again finding the goal with a close finish.

Unfortunately for the Warriors, it would be as close as they would get as Kacher stopped shots from Kerrigan and Tully and several chances flew past the post.

After a Davenport division title during the regular season, Noone admitted that some of the league games were not enough of a challenge to prepare the Warriors for this level of competition. Of course, Foxboro also had not played in two weeks (Concord-Carlisle won its opening round game on Tuesday) and that lack of game sharpness was a major factor.

“It was awful, just trying to keep the boys focused and here and wanting to come to practice every day,” Noone said of the layoff. “We tried to make it fun and work on things that would make us better at the same time but yeah it was tough. That’s a lot of time.”

Noone continued, “It sucks that our last game had to end in a defeat. I love them and they battled for me and I’m so proud. They showed the Foxboro spirit and the Foxboro fight.”

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

Panthers Pull Away From Mansfield In Second Half

Franklin boys lacrosse
Mansfield’s Joseph Plath defends against Franklin’s Matt Lazzaro in the second quarter. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com)
ByRyanLanigan_2016FollowRyanLanigan_2016
 
 
FRANKLIN, Mass. It’s tough to rank players in terms of importance on the field, but there is certainly no doubting the value in Franklin junior face off specialist Jacob Alexander.

Alexander’s second half dominance at the face off X translated into a big half for the fourth-seeded Panthers, resulting in a 13-7 win #13 Mansfield.

The two Kelley-Rex division rivals were knotted 4-4 at halftime but Franklin dominated time of possession and scoring chances thanks in part to Alexander’s continued success at the ‘X.’ Those possessions and chances resulted in an 8-0 run over the third and fourth quarters.

“It all starts with Jacob, he’s such a key component to our success,” said Franklin head coach Lou Verrochi. “What can you say? He’s winning 86% of his face offs, he’s such a tough draw for any team. He’s so talented, and for a kid his size, he’s got good wheels, he can really play. He’s got great ground ball skills, great dodge skills…he could be an effective first line middie really.”

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

Mansfield had a strong start, racing out to a 3-1 lead after a quarter of play. But Franklin scored back-to-back goals within a minute span to tie the game. Franklin took its first lead at 4-3 but Mansfield tied it shortly before half.

“We were right in it but Alexander in the face off X, getting them all of those possessions really hurt,” said Mansfield head coach Tim Frias. “[Freshman] Nico [Holmes] is holding his own and he’s done really well but Alexander is a seasoned vet and it shows. I think in that third quarter we had two offensive possessions compared to the first half where it was a lot more back and forth. Franklin did a great job of possessing and making the most of their opportunities.”

Mansfield’s Danny DiGirolamo opened the scoring three minutes into the game and the Hornets nearly doubled it two minutes later but Franklin goalie Connor O’Rourke (12 saves) made a terrific one-on-one save. That save turned into transition for Franklin and senior Eric Civetti buried his shot on the other end to tie it.

The Hornets didn’t flinch though and capitalized on a transition chance of their own when senior Hunter Ferreira came racing down and buried a shot despite being double teamed. Mansfield survived a man-up opportunity from Franklin and drew a penalty in the process.

During the man-up chance, Ferreira went behind the net and then connected on a pass to Brad Grant right in front, who put the Hornets up 3-1 with just over a minute left in the quarter.

Franklin freshman Matt Lazzaro got things going for the Panthers in the second quarter, charging in from a tight angle before bouncing out in front and ripping a shot in. Lazzaro drew a penalty in the process and the Panthers cashed in less than a minute later when Civetti came from behind the net and found just enough space to sneak a shot in to tie the game.

The Panthers capitalized on the momentum and took the lead just over a minute later. Civetti backed his way down and found the slightest of angles to slip his shot inside the post for a 4-3 lead. Mansfield tied the game with three minutes left in the half when Ferreira found Connor Quirk right in front for the tying tally.


Not only did Alexander change the game with his face off wins in the second half, he set the tone early with a goal less than a minute into the second half.

After winning the opening face off, Mansfield nearly forced a turnover but Alexander scooped up the loose ball. He was able to spin between two defenders and fired a bound shot in to put Franklin up 5-4 just 18 seconds into the third quarter.

Mansfield almost had the tying goal in transition but O’Rourke came up with another one-on-one save to preserve the lead. From there, it was all Franklin.

“Connor really came up big for us a couple of times in big moments,” Verrochi said. “If [Mansfield] gets those goals where he came up with brilliant saves, it’s a different game. He made a huge save when it was 3-1 too and if it gets to 4-1, you never know.”

Just 30 seconds after O’Rourke’s save, Franklin cashed in when Chase Tanner ripped a hard shot that bounced just before the goal line and in. Out of a timeout, junior Patrick Morrison found a cutting Ben Greco in front for a 7-4 lead.

With just 12 seconds left in the third, Civetti again worked his way from behind the net in front and found the top corner with his shot for an 8-4 advantage heading into the final quarter.

“I think the offense settled down,” Verrochi said of the second half. “Everything was a little tight in the first half. Once they settled down and looked for good possessions, things started to go our way. We stopped throwing the ball away which we did a couple of times which is uncharacteristic. But it’s a playoff game, emotions are high, but we settled down in the second half. The long possessions helped us and defensively we extended them a bit.”

Alexander continued to win at the X and Franklin’s offense continued to manufacture goals. Lazzaro converted on a breakaway after the Panthers forced turnover near midfield. Mansfield goalie Jack Munroe (13 saves) made a nice stop on a shot but Jonathan O’Glishen cleaned up the rebound for a 10-4 lead.

Sophomore Owen Palmieri made it 11-4 with a goal midway through the quarter and Civetti netted his fifth just a minute later for a 12-4 lead, capping the Panthers’ 8-0 run that started in the third quarter.

Mansfield’s Michael Reed snapped the scoreless drought with a nice individual effort with 4:23 to go. It marked the Hornets’ first goal since the 3:15 mark of the second quarter.

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

“We felt like we needed to extend on them so we did and I think it kind of took them out of the comfort zone that they were in during the first half,” Verrochi said. “We started to cause some turnovers and did better on the ground balls. We got some nice breaks and some nice finishes from Eric and Matty Lazzaro.”

Tanner answered for Franklin on a nice feed from Kyle McEniry to cap Franklin’s scoring. Joe Cox and DiGirolamo scored in the final two minutes for the Hornets.

Franklin boys lacrosse (16-3) advances to the D1 South quarterfinal round to take on #5 Xaverian (15-4), who beat Marshfield 11-4 in the first round. The game is scheduled for Saturday but a time has yet to be determined. Mansfield finishes the season at 9-9.

North Attleboro Rolls Past Belmont In Playoff Opener

By David James, Hockomock Sports Contributor

NORTH ATTLEBORO, Mass — The North Attleboro boys lacrosse team won its first playoff game since 2014 on Wednesday, and did so in impressive fashion from start to finish.

Dominating the faceoff, causing 28 turnovers, completing 14 of 16 clear attempts, and drawing eight and a half minutes of penalties, the Rocketeers had complete control the entire game.

Big Red’s sophomores shined, as attackmen Andy DeMattio and Jack Connolly tallied four goals and one assist each. Goalie Jake McNeany recorded 12 saves, and Big Red’s defense held Belmont to three goals and dominated in transition.

“Brett Labonte was just faster than any of their players on the ride today. I think he had nine clears himself and he got assists on two of them,” said North Attleboro head coach Kevin Young. “We work really hard on strength and conditioning at practice and as a result, I think our whole team was just faster today. We had more energy throughout the game and that served us well.”

A unique challenge was presented to faceoff man Jason McNeany (one goal, two assists), as Belmont prefers to have defensemen take the faceoff to try and cause an immediate turnover after a loss. The senior captain not only accepted but dominated this task, winning 11 out of 14 draws he took against three different opponents.

“I was worried about their #22 [Thomas Ballard]. Every film I’d watched he torches the opposing faceoff guy,” Young said. “DeMattio getting hot in the first quarter forced Ballard to go down and stay on him and then we were able to dictate things from there. When a long pole wins faceoffs and comes down and scores goals, which [Ballard] does a lot, that’s a huge momentum boost for them so it was essential to eliminate that and Jason did a great job doing so.”

Thomas Lindstrom (one goal, three assists) opened up scoring a little more than two minutes into the game beating his man one on one and sneaking it past goalkeeper Michael Delhome. Connolly found DeMattio two minutes later to give North a 2-0 lead.

Both teams went back and forth exchanging blows as four goals were scored over the next minute. Belmont’s Alec Morin cut the lead to one, only for McNeany to hit DeMattio off the ensuing faceoff to extend the lead back to two. Belmont’s Jackson Pullman to answer to make it 3-2 North but less than 30 seconds later Nick Ward (two goals, one assist) found Connolly and the Rocketeer lead was back up to two.

With a minute remaining in the first North would score three goals that changed the entire complexion of the game. Lindstrom found McNeany for a man-up rip then Ward added two strikes the next 14 seconds, the latter being a buzzer beater off McNeany’s faceoff win, and Big Red ended the first quarter up 7-2.

The second quarter saw little offense and the beginning of what became a very chippy contest. Belmont’s Pullman scored his second of the game halfway through the quarter but that would be the only goal on either side, as well as the Marauders’ last of the game, leading to a 7-3 halftime.

“[Belmont] picked up their defense and we started playing hero ball,” Young said. “After scoring seven in the first, guys were trying to [isolation] by themselves thinking it’d be easy. That fed right into their defense and we couldn’t get anything going. When one guy goes isolation and five guys watch him it’s not successful ball.”

On the flip side North’s defense, currently averaging a seventh best in state 4.6 goals allowed per game, came alive and killed two penalties while causing 10 turnovers in the quarter.

“[Belmont] got two early ones on some nice draw and dumps that left one-on-ones with the goalie and we can’t allow that,” Young explained. “Once we corrected that we only allowed one more goal in the game and things mostly went our way. We forced them to make uncomfortable passes and put the ball on the ground and when the ball’s on the ground, we go in with the mentality that we own it, and today we did.”

To start the second half DeMattio scored his third of the game on a helper from Lindstrom and Jake McNeany made two huge saves from point-blank range to give North all the momentum it needed to squander any chance at a comeback.

Over a 90 second span Connolly scored three times, assisted by Labonte, DeMattio, and Lindstrom respectively, to put the game out of reach and head into the final quarter of play up 11-3.

Big Red was able to stall out almost the entire fourth quarter until Labonte picked up his second fast-break assist, this time to DeMattio, to make it 12-3 with a minute to play.

#6 North Attleboro (15-4) moves on to play at #3 Walpole (14-4) in the D2 Central/East quarterfinal round on Saturday at 3:00.

“Walpole’s a big, strong, tough team that moves the ball really well. They’re a tough team to play but we’ll shift all our attention towards them and give them everything we have,” Young said. “I feel good about it. When this group plays their best they can play with anybody.”

Canton Squeaks Past Pembroke In The First Round

By Brian Hines, HockomockSports.com Contributor

CANTON, Mass. – After a mid-April matchup against the Pembroke Titans, the Canton Bulldogs knew their Division 2 South playoff matchup on Tuesday was not going to be easy.

“We played Pembroke earlier in the season and beat them 8-6,” said Canton head coach Bill Bendell. “We had some guys missing but they were good and we knew they were going to get better and they have a great coach. We knew it was going to be a dogfight when we looked at the seeding, we were like ‘Ah man, this is not going to be easy,’ there were some other matchups we would’ve preferred.”

The result for the Bulldogs on Tuesday was eerily similar to the first go around, as they pulled out an 8-7 victory in a hard-fought matchup.

The scoring came fast for Canton, as senior captain Charlie O’Connor took the opening faceoff and scored himself to give the Bulldogs a lead just eight seconds into the game.

“I wanted to set the tone for our team, make sure we had the momentum going our way,” O’Connor said. “I did what I could, ran down, they didn’t play me on the fast break and just took it to the net, shot and it went in.”

That wasn’t O’Connor’s only big play of the afternoon. After a strong defensive play by Gabe Galeotos and a clear by Brendan Albert with under a minute to go in the first half, Canton used a timeout with 29 seconds left to try and draw something up.

After the original shot was turned away, the ball laid unattended in the crease where O’Connor was able to play clean-up crew, scooping it into the net with one second remaining.

“The play right before halftime, we drew a couple things up, if they do this we’ll do this and we executed perfectly but they played really good defense, so they took away what we were trying to run,” Bendell. “Then our captain Charlie O’Connor knocked that ball in with one second left and that’s the game, that’s the game winner if you look at it that way.”

“I just brought out my inner hockey instincts almost,” said O’Connor. “Coach always says play to the whistle if the ball is on the goal line then poke it in…I poked it in and luckily, I kept my feet outside of the crease.”

The last-second goal gave the Bulldogs a 4-2 lead heading to halftime, forcing Pembroke to have to adjust during the break, which is exactly what they did.

The adjustments started with faceoff specialist Aidan Geary, who won eight draws in the second half to help bring the Titans get back into the game.

“[Geary] was really good and they made some adjustments,” Bendell said. “[Charlie] won the first one and scored and set the tone, that was huge, but after that, they really tightened that up and made it a battle. It was tough to get possessions.”

With those extra possessions, the Pembroke offense wasted little time getting back into the game.

After Mike Shaw (two goals, one assist) gave Canton a 5-2 lead, Pembroke’s Ryan Mulhern (two goals) scored in a five on five situation to pull the Titans back within two.

Canton then seemed destined to pull away yet again after a strong save from goalie Jack Connolly and a two-man advantage. However, the two-man advantage didn’t affect the Titans as Patrick Mulhern (three goals, one assist) scored with just over four minutes left in the third quarter.

The Titans then used their own man advantage with a Colin Newton goal and Michael Hendriksen added an even-strength goal just one minute later to cap a 4-0 run, which gave Pembroke their first lead of the game.

Canton then quickly answered when Kevin Albert (two goals, one assist) snuck one in just seconds after the faceoff to tie the game at 6-6 to end the third.

To start the fourth, Albert cashed in on another opportunity with 10 minutes remaining, only to have Patrick Mulhern tie the game just two minutes later. But with just over seven minutes remaining, a shot directed right to Albert who found Griffin Roach in front for what was the eventual game-winning goal.

“We’ve lost some one-goal games with these seniors so they’ve seen that,” Bendell said. “We were at D-Y a couple years ago and had them, then they beat us by a goal. We had Sandwich, it was tied late and they scored with under a minute left to beat us, so we survived and advanced just like they survived against us and advanced.”

Over the last seven minutes, the score remained 8-7 in large part due to Connolly in net. Connolly made four big saves in final minutes of regulation, including one with two seconds left that sealed the victory for the Bulldogs.

“He’s a beast, that was huge,” Bendell said. “The defense at the end of the game was clutch. You know the stick gets a little tight in those situations for some guys, but these guys thrive on that stuff. Jack doesn’t get discouraged, he might have a moment where he puts his head down for one brief moment but he’s still a sophomore, he’s a confident enough kid who plays varsity hockey, varsity football and varsity lacrosse so this is nothing new to him. He loves the spotlight and that was huge, that was clutch.”

Canton boys lacrosse (10-7) will now travel to face the No. 3 seed Sandwich on Thursday at 5:00 P.M.

“We just said to these guys, the first win of the playoffs is the hardest,” Bendell said. “We’ve done that trip before, it’s not an easy trip and they’re a good team. But now you’re playing house money, you got past the first round now we’re the lower seed technically so now the pressures on them to beat us and we’re a tough team, so we’ll see.”