SHREWSBURY, Mass. – When chasing the brass ring of a perfect season, a team needs to hold itself to a higher standard.
Case and point was No. 6 Longmeadow’s 10-8 win over No. 7 St. John’s of Shrewsbury at Pioneer Field on Wednesday. The Lancers remained undefeated, moving to 17-0, but in the postgame, first-year head coach Ryan Liebel was more apt to point to the things his team didn’t do.
“The game was pretty ugly off the bat,” Liebel commented on the nearly instant 3-0 hole Longmeadow dug in the first quarter.
However, the finish is what counts most and the Lancers got the better of the fourth quarter, scoring a string of three goals to round out a two-goal victory.
Senior midfield Eric Barsalou tallied a hat trick while fellow middie Keegan Dudeck tallied the game-winning goal with less than six minutes to play.
“Ball possession was obviously huge and we took advantage of that,” Leibel said.
That advantage was due in no small part to junior midfielder Drew Kelleher, who reached double-digits in the ground ball battle. Also, Longmeadow owned the faceoff X in the second half, winning more than 60 percent of those draws.
“They dominated the faceoffs, it was at least two-to-one, if not more,” St. John’s head coach Terry Leary said. “I think all those extra possessions hurt us.”
The teams went into the half tied, 4-4, before the Lancers again seized the lead with two quick goals to start the third from Barsalou and Max Chipouras. But the back-and-forth continued through the second half. With five lead changes occurring in the game, the Pioneers (11-3) held a lead as late as the 9:55 mark of the fourth quarter, with Kevin Butler’s third goal of the game.
The Lancers again came back to make it a tie game just 34 seconds later on Barsalou’s third before taking the lead for good on Dudeck’s game-winner.
LIFE IN THE MIDDLE
While the tightly contested battle was indicative of what you’d expect from two of the top Division 2 programs in the state this season, and although the Pioneers fell short, there was plenty for St. John’s to take away from Wednesday’s performance.
The biggest positive that Leary saw from his team was offensive production from midfield — namely Butler’s hat trick.
“We have three very dangerous attackmen in [Andrew] Smiley, [Josh] Freilich and [Hunter] Burdick, and typically a majority of our scoring comes from them,” Leary said. “But if teams are collapsing on them, we’ve been working all year to get more and more middie production.”
With both teams heading down the home stretch of their regular-season schedules, there’s reason to believe they could meet again in the not too distant future, in a potential Div. 2 Central/West championship game matchup.
Neither side believed they played their best game under Wednesday’s soggy conditions, but they’ve separated from the pack. Further proof came in Longmeadow’s 16-1 dismantling of Eastern Mass. power Medfield last weekend.
For the first-year Lancers head coach, he’s just enjoying the ride for now. Liebel, a Longmeadow alumnus who played for the program and former head coach at Belchertown, couldn’t ask for a better group that – when it’s all said and done – might be historically good.
“It’s a talented group of players,” he said. “It makes coaching a lot of fun.”