SHREWSBURY, Mass. -- Amidst talk that upstart Shrewsbury, not defending district champion St. John's (Shrewsbury), might be the best team in Central Massachusetts, the No. 8 Pioneers sent a message to their rival Sunday: lacrosse in the heart of the Commonwealth still belongs to them.
Behind hat tricks from junior Jared Ward and sophomore Andrew Cox, St. John's cruised to a 9-0 win on a rainy afternoon at Shrewsbury High.
"I thought we played really well from the beginning," St. John's coach Terry Leary said. "I thought we had very few unforced errors, and that's something we've been pushing as we move toward the second half of the season."
It was a breakout day not only for the St. John's (9-0) midfield, which scored six of the team's nine goals, but also for senior goalie Steve Kerr. After waiting his turn behind now-graduated A.J. Arnold a season ago, Kerr is leading Central Mass in goals against average, at only 2.56 allowed per game. His six first quarter saves thwarted any chance Shrewsbury (9-1) had of making this a game.
"I think it was a great day for our defense," senior attackman Drew Smiley said. "Our offense has been getting the credit, but our defense has been there all year. Steve Kerr has been playing amazing all year too."
After Kerr weathered the initial storm, there wasn't much for him to do, however, as the St. John's defense limited Shrewsbury to just two more shots on goal the rest of the day. That, combined with an astonishing 20-2 advantage on ground balls, allowed St. John's to work its way out of an offensive funk, thanks to stellar play from its midfield.
The midfield, led by Cox' three goals, scored six goals total, dominated the face-off X thanks to senior Connor Maloney, and forced the normally solid Shrewsbury midfield into a number of mistakes.
"We came into the huddle [in the first quarter] and we kind of said to our middies, 'you guys can step up and you guys can control this game,'" Smiley said. "Andrew Cox, the sophomore, had a huge game. It was kind of his breakout game, and we've been waiting for him to do that all season. He's a great athlete."
Ward got things going for St. John's, scoring two goals in the first quarter, and Cox' first goal in the second quarter gave the Pioneers a 4-0 halftime lead. Cox opened the second half with a blast over Shrewsbury star goalie Chris Gorman's right shoulder to extend the lead and then added another cutting goal on a pass from senior Kevin Butler moments later.
Ward completed his hat trick and pushed the game to its final score of 9-0 midway through the fourth, establishing St. John's as the unquestioned team to beat in Central Massachusetts.
"It was a huge win for us," Smiley said. "Beating a team like Shrewsbury, they're one of the best teams in Central Mass, it's a great feeling, and we knew they were gonna bring it."
The road gets no easier for the Pioneers, as they get set to host a pair of talented Eastern Mass opponents. St. John's will first welcome St. John's Prep, Tuesday at 4:30 p.m., then Xaverian, Thursday at 4 p.m.