NORTH EASTON, Mass. – Oliver Ames erased a pair of two-goal deficits in the first half and pitched a shutout in the second half, giving the #8 eight seeded Tigers their first ever playoff win with a 8-4 decision over #9 Apponequet.
It took just over three minutes for the Lakers to take a two goal lead. The Lakers won the game’s first three face offs and Owen Cosgrove and Ryan Donovan found the back of the net to put Apponequet up 2-0. Oliver Ames had the answer though, finding the back of the net twice in less than a minute to tie the game.
First, senior Aidan Connly and bounced a shot into the back of the cage and 38 seconds later, sophomore Eric LeBlanc dodged his way up the middle and tied the game 2-2.
The Lakers had another strong start to the second quarter as Donovan had his original bid stoned by OA goalie Jake Aronson but the rebound bounced off the line. Apponequet once again gained a two goal lead when Jacob Hryzan muscled his way through a pair of defenders and finished to make it 2-0 five and a half minutes into the second quarter.
OA head coach Chris DiGiacomo called for a timeout to regroup and the Tigers responded, nearly instantly. It took just 49 seconds after the Lakers gained a two goal lead for OA to pull within one. Connly and Max Bamford connected up the field and Gallagher found Liam Brown with a tic-tack-toe
passing sequence and Brown finished from close range. With under five minutes to go, took a feed from Connly and deposited it into the back of the net to tie the game heading into half.
“I think initially there were some jitters and nervous with the whole moment,” DiGiacomo said. “It took a little while until they got the hang of things and got comfortable. We called the timeout and regrouped and the kids knew the game plan, I think they needed to just step back, not worry about the moment and just play. And that’s what they did. It was almost instantaneous after that and we scored a couple quick goals, the effort was fantastic.
“I can’t be any more proud of the way they gutted it out, not only winning this game but the way they gutted it out during the second half of the season when we had very little margin for error in terms of making of the playoffs. They got it done every step of the way and that’s a testament to these boys and how hard they’ve worked.”
The Tigers, who won five of their final seven games in order to earn a playoff berth, completely controlled the play in the second half. OA opened its lead just over four minutes into the half when LeBlanc raced past his defender, stepped back in front of goal and easily found the back of the net to make it 6-4.
It took less than a minute for Oliver Ames to capitalize on the momentum. The Tigers called out an isolation play for Gallagher and he took advantage, faking a spin behind the cage and wrapping around to make it 7-4.
Oliver Ames capped the scoring, finding the back of the net for the third time in a two minute span when LeBlanc took advantage of a man up situation to make it 8-4.
“We made some changes personnel wise as the year went on and we’ve developed some chemistry,” DiGiacomo said. “I’m not even sure how many goals [LeBlanc and Gallagher] had. But they’re solid kids, solid players and battle tested from playing hockey and playing on a big stage. It’s been nice to see the whole group step up. It’s a collective group effort. We had to do this as a team and that’s what we preached to them. This was the first home playoff game in program history and now we have our first win in program history.”
OA was forced into a man-down situation to start the fourth quarter because of an illegal stick. The Lakers tried to mount a comeback, firing two shots on net with the man advantage but both were turned aside by Aronson. Apponequet kept the pressure up, rocketing two more shots in the next minute but Aronson once again was there, picking up his 10th and 11th saves of the game. Max Howe, Kyle Agresta, Philip Saba and Max Sheldon all played well in front of Aronson.
“Jake’s a senior captain, he’s played great all year,” DiGiacomo said. “He’s made a lot of very impressive saves and in big moments to keep us in games and put us in a position to win. I had coaches all year coming up and asking if he was a senior, saying I hope so. He’s really a talented kid. He certainly did a lot for us.”
The Tigers’ close to the season and first ever playoff win are impressive on their own, but they did it all without their top scorer, senior Matt Gilson, who suffered a knee injury. Gilson led OA with 36 goals and 51 overall points despite only playing in 12 and a half games. Still, DiGiacomo was quick to point that Gilson was a big reason for OA’s win today.
“I feel terrible for him and we certainly wouldn’t be here without him,” DiGiacomo said. “He’s a tremendous talent. No question, he’s our best player. He’s a very mature, bright kid and he transition from player to honorary coach when he got injured. He’s all about mentoring these kids and telling them what he saw from the sidelines. It’s a testament to the kind of kid he is. We know he’s hurting because he wishes he was out here but I just told him we wouldn’t be here without him. He’s as big a part of this as anyone.”
Oliver Ames boys lacrosse (10-9) now advances to the D2 South Quarterfinals to take on top-seeded Hingham (17-5). The Tigers will travel to take on the Harbormen on Thursday at 3:00.
Ryan Lanigan can be contacted at RyanLanigan@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @R_Lanigan.