WORCESTER, Mass. -- A man-down and facing a flurry of shots, Grafton senior goalie Cadrin Msumba made three saves to seal a 7-6 victory against Hanover in the Division 3 state semifinal, clinching a second consecutive trip to the state championship for Grafton.
Just moments before, Grafton (19-5) grabbed a one-goal lead when senior attackman Hunter Fraser shook off a hard slash to deliver an underhand pass to a cutting Brendan Coates. The junior threw it home, and Grafton started the next sequence with the ball, up a man.
"Hunter (Fraser) just flipped it to me," Coates said afterward. "I just caught it and knew I was close to the net. So I spun and shot it."
But the Indians would give it back to Hanover (17-5) just 30 seconds later, and the Indians had two minutes to even things. First, Hanover drew a Grafton tripping penalty to make it five-on-five lacrosse, and then a stick to the face by Grafton gave Hanover the man advantage.
Then Msumba stood on his head, making his first stop on Hanover's Neil Calkin with his head, then blocking a long shot by middie Abdullah Nassif, and snagging a low shot by Timothy Mullane. Msumba then threw the ball the length of the field as time expired, and the celebration was on.
"I honestly can't remember," Msumba said of the wild final sequence. "They're a high-powered offense, they've got a high-paced offense as well… But (our) players, they're impossible not to play for. You hear us before the game, we've all got each other's backs. Everyone out here wants to play for each other."
Hanover actually started the day's scoring when junior middie Abdullah Nassif spun from behind the cage to put the Indians up 1-0. Grafton's newly named All-American Chase Kapuscienski was quick to answer, dodging in to tie the game with his first of three scores. The Indians grabbed a lead when Fraser found Coates for his first of three goals, but Hanover's Luke Bernasconi answered six seconds later with a goal off the draw. We would end the first with things even at two.
Six minutes would go by in the second before Fraser was able to wrap around to put Grafton up 3-2, and Hanover's Neil Calkin matched him with a wrap around on the other end to tie the game. Finally, Grafton would get back-to-back goals from Kapuscienski and Coates to take a 5-3.
"They knew what they wanted to do with Hunter (Fraser)," Coates said. "They locked him off, they locked Chase (Kapuscienski) off, and we just kept fighting. We knew what to do."
It wouldn't last long, however, as a Grafton penalty led to another score by Calkin. Just before the half, Msumba made another of his 14 saves to keep Hanover off the board, and we went to intermission with Grafton leading 5-4.
After the team's traded goals in the third, Nassif picked up a ground ball and threw it in to tie things up with seven minutes to play. While Grafton would go on to win on Coates' third goal and Msumba's three final saves, there was no denying the normally confident Indians were worried.
Grafton has lost only five games all year, but four of them have been one-goal games, three coming in overtime. Most recently, the Indians dropped an OT road game against Westborough were they led by a goal with less than 30 seconds to play.
"(Those losses) definitely creep into your mind," Fontana said. "I was getting flashbacks of Westboro, I thought we were gonna go into OT. But, I had faith in our defense, and it worked out."
Grafton exorcised those demons, and instead found the magic that propelled them to the state championship a season ago. In last year's semifinal against Ipswich, the Indians advanced on a double-OT game winner by middie Josh Birdsall and, as senior middie Matt O'Brien said while walking off the field, "Cadrin Msumba is the new Josh Birdsall."
Grafton will move onto the Division 3 state championship against reigning champion Dover-Sherborn, in a rematch of last year's title game, won by D-S 14-2. Grafton expects things to be closer this time around.
"Since we're going Saturday, we may as well win it," Grafton coach Alan Rotatori told his players afterward.
The Division 3 state championship game will take place Saturday at Boston University's Nickerson Field. Game time is still to be determined.