SOUTHBOROUGH, Mass. -- Grafton lacrosse battled through wet conditions and a string of second-half penalties to defeat two-time defending Central Mass. champion Algonquin on Thursday.
The Indians (13-2, 9-0 Mid Mass) led by three or more goals on three different occasions, but couldn’t shake Algonquin (10-4, 8-0 Midland A) until All-American Bryan Rotatori ripped an insurance goal in with five seconds left. The 11-9 Indian victory marked the first time a Central Mass. team had beaten NO. 20 Algonquin in more than two years, a span of 37 straight wins for the Tomahawks.
Grafton coach Alan Rotatori — Bryan’s dad — knew this win was extra special for his team.
“When we got this game on the schedule officially, I know all the guys were really excited,” Rotatori said. “This is the team that’s knocked us out the last three years, and we’ve got 17 seniors on this team that had a real bad taste in their mouth. You could tell. I thought we just played with tremendous effort today.”
Not only did the younger Rotatori end things, he also got them started, beating Algonquin’s Giles Ober on a feed from fellow All-American Tyler Reilly. Algonquin was unable to contain Grafton’s star duo, as each scored four goals on the day with Rotatori dishing out a pair of assists.
Algonquin’s Tyler Hatton answered shortly after, but another Rotatori goal put the Indians up 2-1. Ryan King scored the first of his three goals for the Tomahawks, pulling them even, and teammate Jake Scearbo gave Algonquin its only lead of the day a minute later, 3-2.
The first quarter would end 3-3, after Rotatori found his way to the cage again. He then helped give the Indians the halftime lead, finding Reilly on a long pass to put Grafton up 4-3 just before intermission.
After Mike Wood tied the game for Algonquin, Reilly sliced through the back end of the Tomahawk defense, nearly untouched, for an easy goal. Less than a minute later, Rotatori noticed Ober was out of the Tomahawk net and launched a shot from midfield for the goal.
Then, the penalties began for Grafton.
The Indians gave up three man-down goals in the next eight minutes, allowing Algonquin to stay in the game.
“We’ve got to clean [the penalties] up,” Rotatori said. “But I thought it showed the character and heart of our team. We fought through a lot of adversity today.”
Trailing 9-8 with two minutes remaining, King continued his breakout performance for the Tomahawks, ripping one past Grafton’s Eric Fisher off a pass from Scearbo. Sawyer Coleman responded for the Indians, giving Grafton a 10-9 advantage heading into the game’s final minute, and the Tomahawks were unable to capitalize on a pair of uncharacteristic turnovers by Reilly.
With less than 10 seconds to play, Rotatori picked up a ground ball and threw it home to give the Indians an 11-9 victory.
The win makes it eight in a row for Grafton, while the Tomahawks have dropped two of their last three in an injury-plagued season. Though Wood returned for the Tomahawks against Grafton, they were still without star midfielder Davis Kraft, and things got worse in the fourth quarter when Mike Ryan went down with an apparent right knee injury and didn’t return.
“We’ve dealt with a ton of injuries this season, but I was happy with the way our guys played today,” Algonquin coach Rich Luongo said. “I though (Mike) Wood played great for his first game back, and we played a heck of a team today… Hopefully we can keep working hard and get some guys back at the right time.”
Grafton returns home to face Medway Monday, while Algonquin hits the road for a challenging trip to Acton-Boxborough this Saturday.