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.”