It’s safe to say that Memorial Day 2011 will be a day members of the Rocky River boys lacrosse team won’t soon forget.
The Pirates, who lost to University School in last year’s Division II elite eight, partially atoned for that loss with an 8-5 win over visiting St. Francis DeSales. The Monday win put River in the state final four for the first time.
The boys squad joined their female counterparts, who defeated Hawken, 14-12, last week in Mentor to advance. The River girls, who earlier won their first-ever tournament game in a 16-1 thrashing of Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin, are in the final four for the first time as well.
The quest for a state championship continues Wednesday for the boys. River will host University School in a state semifinal. The girls play Friday at 5 p.m. against Columbus Academy at Hawken in their state semifinal.
“On a day like this, it can be mentally tough when it’s close to 90 degrees,” said River second-year head coach Steve Anderson, whose team advanced with a 12-11 win over Wooster that was delayed until last Friday night. That delay, along with other obligations for the River facility, pushed the game up to Monday morning.
“During the weather delays and cancellations, as coaches we keep talking to them and tell them ‘hey, this is how it is. You’ve got to be flexible, mentally strong and ready for when the time comes to hit the field,'” Anderson said. “There’s two teams out there, and they had to deal with the same conditions. It’s a matter then of who is mentally stronger and ready to perform.”
Monday’s game was a defensive struggle from the start. The score was tied at 2-2 at the half, and was 3-3 early in the second half when the Pirates went on a small run to take a 5-3 lead on goals from Matt Merhige and Matt Garibaldi. Garibaldi’s goal came with 8:34 left in the third quarter.
DeSales, which had lost to the Pirates earlier this season, rallied. The visitors took advantage of a rash of River penalties and tied it at 5-5 with 2:37 left in the third.
That’s when Garibaldi, the team’s leading scorer, took matters into his own hands.
The Pirate senior came up with a steal and took it in himself at the 1:59 mark of the third for a 6-5 River lead. The Pirates would never trail the rest of the way, as Garibaldi scored his third gaol of the game1:19 into the fourth quarter for a 7-5 River advantage.
The Pirate defense proved to be solid in the fourth, with the back line and goalie Aaron Blossey denying DeSales on a number of scoring attempts. With 4:24 left, the Pirates went in for the kill and got it as Ty Daughstrup scored to make it 8-5.
“With our senior leadership, we were really able to step things up in the second half,” Anderson said. “I think that’s where the experience of last year really came through for us.
“We were in the same game last year and lost pretty badly,” he continued. “This year, the team showed the strength, the guts and the character to overcome things. We had some penalties in the third, but the defense came though We started playing smarter and possessing the ball more as a team.”
Anderson admitted Garibaldi was a key cog in the team’s second-half surge.
“Her’s probably the best high school player that I’ve coached,” Anderson said. “And it’s not all about skill. It’s about being a gamer and a finishers, commanding the ball and taking control. He’s really that person.
“His scores were huge for us. I look to him to do that kind of stuff, and he knows it. He has the confidence and the experience to do it. It’s pretty unique to find a player like that, and he’s definitely one of those kids,” he added.
DeSales took a 1-0 lead just over a minute into the game, but Andreas Tjotjos tied it up for the Pirates less than a minute later. Another DeSales goal made it 2-1 heading into the second period. In the second quarter, Merhige tied it at 2-2 with 8:05 left in the half. DeSales drew first blood in after the intermission, but Bobby Perez answered less than a minute later to make it 3-3.