Orchard Park had injuries, young players and a regular-season loss to its championship opponent. Hamburg had a grinding regular season and played through dark skies and a serious rainstorm.
But both ended up where they usually do: On top of Section VI boys lacrosse.
The two stalwart programs were joined by a first-time champion as Akron won the Class C title in dramatic fashion on an entertaining evening of lacrosse before an estimated combined crowd of 2,500 Tuesday at Robert E. Rich All High Stadium.
Orchard Park (22 Section VI Class A titles in 24 years) and Hamburg (seven B titles in the last eight years) both continued their sectional success with 10-9 victories – over Clarence and Niagara-Wheatfield, respectively – before Akron won its first in head-turning fashion.
The Tigers used a 7-0 run in the second half to come from behind and stun Salamanca, 17-15, to earn the school’s first sectional title in boys lacrosse.
“It’s amazing,” said senior Wyn Blueye, who had three goals and two assists for Akron. “It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had.”
The three Section VI champions will return to All High on Saturday afternoon for the Far West Regionals against the winners from Section V (Rochester area) for the right to go to the State Public High School Athletic Association semifinals.
Orchard Park (16-3) will play Fairport (18-2) at 1 p.m. in the Class A regional. Fairport scored with 17 seconds left to beat Fairport, 7-6, Tuesday night.
Hamburg (16-4) will face Victor (15-3) – which defeated Canandaigua, 12-8, Tuesday – in the Class B game at 3:30.
The Class C regional will be at 5:30, with Akron taking on Section V superpower Penn Yan (15-3), which Tuesday defeated Palmyra-Macedon, 17-5.
Orchard Park, after splitting its regular-season matchups with Clarence, put together a key offensive run in the third quarter and then held off the Red Devils to continue its sectional success, which also includes 19 titles in the last 20 years.
In a streak-filled game, OP never trailed. The Quakers scored the game’s first five goals and used a solid 4-1 third quarter to take a 10-7 lead before they held on in the fourth.
“It’s really big to take it back to OP,” said junior Jack Crowley, who had two goals and two assists.
“Clarence got us that one time so I’m just glad to win it,” said junior Kevin Goltz, who had four goals and two assists, referring to Clarence’s sectional title win over OP in 2011.
Clarence answered OP’s opening burst by scoring five straight, and the teams traded goals to forge a 6-6 halftime tie. OP sustained at least a two-goal lead in the fourth until a goal by Clarence junior standout Josh Slowinski with :41.2 left in the game cut OP’s lead to 10-9.
The Quakers, playing without injured defensive standout junior captain Matt Perla, survived a Clarence possession after Slowinski won the ensuing faceoff. The Red Devils called timeout with possession with 17.7 seconds left but OP senior longstick midfielder John Wellington helped prevent Clarence from getting off a final shot attempt.
“We picked it up in the third quarter,” said Goltz. “At halftime we set our mind straight and we pulled through.”
In a game which had a torrential downpour but no breaks in the action, when the thunder rumbled, Hamburg got rolling. The game was 3-3 at halftime. Early in the third quarter, a downpour began with thunder, but no visible lightning. Soon after, senior Matt Borgese scored for Hamburg for a 4-3 lead, and after the Bulldogs won the ensuing faceoff, Griffin Ryan scored 12 seconds later for a 5-3 lead with 8:48 left in the third.
Hamburg took an 8-5 lead to the fourth and would go up 10-8 on a Borgese goal with 4:28 left.
Then, remarkably, everything seemed to change. The Tigers made it 14-12 entering the fourth and scored five more times to take a startling 17-14 lead. Salamanca would not score until there was 1:02 left in the game.
“It was just us settling down on offense,” said Akron coach Bryan Bellis. “Once we settled in, and they weren’t so nervous, you can see how we play.”
Sophomore attackman Gates Abrams tied it at 14-14 with 8:44 left before Blueye scored two straight, a liner from up top to take the lead with 8:00 to go and a spin-and-score shot to make it 16-14 with 6:27 left.
Abrams had five goals while senior Zak Hayes and junior Chaunce Hill each had three goals for the Tigers, who lost the C final the last two years (their only other finals appearances) to Silver Creek.