Orchard Park, Hamburg and Akron were opposites when it came to on-field strategy Tuesday, but by the end of the night the teams had one thing in common.
They successfully defended their respective Section VI boys lacrosse championships during a tripleheader at Grand Island’s Gene Masters Field that drew an estimated 1,500.
OP (14-4) played great defense and the offense took care of itself as the Quakers blanketed Clarence’s top two scoring threats and then pumped in nine of the game’s final 11 goals in beating the Red Devils, 14-7, in Class A. Kevin Goltz scored four goals, while Jack Crowley added three for Orchard Park.
The Quakers won their 23rd sectional title in 25 years with help from Travis McNichol, Josh Dahl, Ron Shul and Griffin Loughran. Dahl and Loughran shadowed Clarence’s top scoring threats Josh Slowinski and Ben Harsch and made them non-factors. When the Red Devils generated a scoring chance, McNichol denied them as he finished with 12 saves. Shul controlled the faceoff circle and won the key draw that led to the goal that sparked the Quakers’ game-deciding run.
“This group of guys, they believe in themselves and played to their potential today,” said OP coach Gene Tundo. “Holding that team to seven goals … they really shut them down.”
Once again Hamburg feels fortunate to be the Class B champion because the Bulldogs’ foe, Niagara Wheatfield, proved to be a tough out. Hamburg rode a five-goal second quarter to a nail-biting 8-7 victory to secure its eighth championship in nine years.
Defending Class C champion Akron had four players score at least five goals, with senior Aynsley Loran-Pragle and freshman Owen Hill each scoring six times in a 30-13 rout of Silver Creek. Senior Larson Sundown piled up five goals and 13 points, as the Tigers ran their record to 19-0.
The champions advanced to Saturday’s Far West Regionals at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford, where they will face Rochester-area counterparts for the right to advance to the state final four.
OP won its 12th in a row, and Shul scored perhaps the biggest goal of the season for the Quakers with 9 minutes, 37 seconds left in the third. The strike came eight seconds after Tom Roth tied the game at 5-5 for Clarence (13-5) with his third goal of the game. Shul won the draw cleanly, ran straight up the middle and fired an uncontested shot past the helpless Red Devils goalie to give OP an advantage it never relinquished the rest of the way.
“It was a big momentum swing,” Shul said. “I beat him off the whistle. I just went down the field. That’s what I’ve practiced. That’s what I’ve perfected.”
He then scored with 1.5 seconds left in the quarter to give OP its biggest lead of the game, a three-goal edge, heading into the final quarter.
Goltz scored three times during a 6-2 final quarter. “It feels great,” said Shul. “We’re just keeping the OP tradition alive.”
Kevin McParlane, Shul and Dan Krikausky each finished with two goals for OP and Tyler Bonilla also scored. Roth finished with four goals for Clarence.
Tuesday’s Hamburg-NW meeting didn’t start out like it’d be a one-goal game like last season’s final. The Bulldogs led 7-1 late in the second quarter as Shawn Feuerstein’s late first-quarter goal sparked a 6-0 run in which Jim Duffy scored twice.
But the Falcons switched to a zone defense, which shut down Hamburg and bought them time to mount a rally. Evan Printup scored three times during a 4-1 third quarter as the Falcons (14-3) trailed, 8-6, entering the final quarter.
Hamburg did an effective job playing keep-away in the late going, but the Falcons pulled within one on Dakota Becker’s goal with 51 seconds left. NW won the ensuing faceoff but the Falcons turned it over trying to force a play inside with less than 15 seconds left. Will Pritchard pounced for Hamburg, scooping up the ball and running toward midfield to preserve the win. “That Wheatfield team is very talented and we’re very fortunate to get out of here with the win,” Bulldogs coach Jerry Severino said.
Meanwhile, Akron’s goal is to average five goals a period.
The Tigers did better than that Tuesday in setting a section record for most goals in a final. Akron led 6-0 before the game was even five minutes old and had leads of 9-1, 16-8 and 24-9 after each quarter break. Sundown finished with five goals to increase his season total to 112 and career count to 331. Tuesday marked the third time this season the Tigers scored 30 goals in a single game. Beside having a finisher like Sundown, what has been fueling the Akron offense has been Owen Hill’s play in the circle. He’s won 76 percent of his draws and went 25-11 Tuesday. He also had 15 of Akron’s 36 ground balls.
“It’s kind of crazy, we just move the ball a lot and find the open man,” said Loran-Pragle, a senior who missed most of last year’s championship run with an injury.
Now comes the moment of truth: regionals against perhaps longtime power Penn Yan, which plays Aquinas for the Section V title Wednesday. Penn Yan ended Akron’s dream of a state title last year in without-a-doubt fashion. It’s something the Tigers haven’t forgotten. “Everything we’ve done this year is (to prepare) for Penn Yan,” said Loran-Pragle. “I definitely think we’re ready.”