WORCESTER, Mass. -- Algonquin lacrosse sophomore attack Mike Wood had his first taste of the Tomahawks’ rivalry with St. John’s of Shrewsbury last year.
In the team huddle, leading up to the final quarter of Tuesday night’s Division 2 Central semifinal and down a goal to the Pioneers, Wood said his teammates rallied together to play the best 12 minutes possible, so that Algonquin’s seniors wouldn’t have to bow out against their adversaries.
Then, during the fourth, one of the younger members of the Tomahawks’ dynamic offense lifted the entire squad on his shoulders, striking for both the game-tying and game-winning goals. Wood’s winner came with a shade under four minutes to play and it marked Algonquin’s first lead of the game since the nine-minute mark of the first quarter.
But it was better late than never, as the top-seeded Tomahawks (20-1) advanced to the sectional final with a 7-6 win over the Pioneers at Foley Stadium.
“We just wanted to have possession,” Wood said of Algonquin’s fourth-quarter effort. “They’re great at ground balls. We wanted to hold it to give the defense a break, and then after holding for a while, their defense lost momentum and we took it.
No. 4 St. John’s (16-5) controlled the majority of the play, including an offensive flurry out of the chute. The Pioneers scored on their first three shots on goal, with senior attack Jeff Desko scoring two of his three goals in the first quarter.
Although Algonquin’s win marked its fourth straight against a bitter rival, Tomahawks head coach Rich Luongo was ready for the onslaught.
“They probably should’ve beat us today,” he said, “I think they played that well. But we just figured out how to hang tough, hang in there and win games. We have some big threats who can score some big goals for us.”
The Pioneers carried a 6-4 lead into the fourth on sophomore Andrew Smiley’s second goal.
Tomahawks senior attack Conor Healey bolstered the comeback charge with his first tally at 8:54 of the fourth. Healey (1 G, 3 A) was in on the act again, helping to set up Wood’s tying goal with a great split dodge.
Wood saved the best for last, however, notching the game-winner with a defender tucked inside of his jersey, ripping a shot off from his seat.
“I feel down and I just threw it [toward net],” Wood said, “hopefully, it was going in.”
HELLO, OLD FRIEND
Tuesday marked the second straight year in which Algonquin ended the Pioneers season. The Tomahawks claimed a 10-9 overtime win over St. John’s in last year’s Central final.
Algonquin’s held the recent edge in the rivals’ head-to-head matchups, including a late-season roughing up of the Pioneers.
“I knew that wasn’t going to happen today,” Luongo said, reflecting on the team’s last regular-season meeting.
NIGHT AND DAY
There was a stark contrast to the teams’ play in each of the final two quarters. The Pioneers soundly won the third quarter, controlling the faceoff X and the ground ball battles all over the field.
“They were winning the clamp most of the night, but our wings were just doing a spectacular job,” St. John’s head coach Terry Leary said of his team’s faceoff success.
Yet, the same could not be said for the fourth, when the odds turned in Algonquin’s favor.
“We brought them in a huddle and we said that we’re too good of a team to go out this way,” Luongo said. “[Carter] Guzzi did a heck of a job at the faceoff X, and my wing play picked up their level and we started picking up ground balls. And once we get possession, we’re a good ball-handling team.”
NOT TO BE LOST
Holding the potent Tomahawks’ assault to single digits in no small feat, and the Pioneers largely played the game they needed to knock off the No. 1 seed.
St. John’s got a top-notch defensive performance from long-stick midfielder Jeff Lukasevicz, who gobbled up a game-high seven ground balls, in addition to a couple of forced turnovers.
Leary praised the efforts of his defensive group, including senior captain Sean Wilson, Brendan Melanson and Aidan Fox
“We were trying to slough in a little bit more than we do against some teams because they’re so good at the off-ball movement, so we found ourselves in transition,” Leary said. “We were mixing up our slides … Even in the man [defense], they’re good with possessing it, so we thought we’d play some zone against it, they might start forcing the ball and we created some turnovers.”