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Regional Revelry! Double-R earns big win, now headed for Final 4
RR Boys' Lacrosse
ROCKY RIVER, Ohio -- The Pirates are Region 5 champs and are headed to the Final Four of the DII Ohio Boys' Lacrosse Tournament. That honor was one earned up and down the 59,400 square feet of playing field at Rocky River Stadium on Thursday night. End-to-end and side-to-side, with every tussle for a ground ball and with every dodge, check, and chase. All in a thrilling 6-4 victory over Toledo St. Francis.

Rocky River (16-4) played smart, physical lacrosse in flipping the script from an 8-3 loss to the same Knights on the same field on March 27. But this is a Pirates team that has marched on since then. And the script to which they played on Thursday was a swashbuckling thriller all the way.

Scoring four unanswered goals over the first and second quarters, and getting tremendous efforts from their goalie and face-off man, the Pirates outscored the Knights, 4-1, in the first half. After St. Francis senior Forrest Stacy potted the first goal of the contest at the 4:50-mark of the first, River played lockdown defense. That defense was played on the ride and in closing off transition opportunities, which were an early problem against a fleet-footed, quick-passing Knights group. It was played well out in front of the Pirate goal, with Kai Delventhal, Matthew George, and Matthew McDonald mercilessly hounding would-be St. Francis dodgers. It was played in tight, with Charlie Hudson and Robby Lang muscling would-be slot attempts to less-dangerous parts of the box. And it was all backed up by goalkeeper Reece Rochester, who time-and-again stymied high quality looks absolutely destined for twine.

It was Rochester turning aside a transition bouncer on a near-certain St. Francis goal to keep the game scoreless at 6:55 of the first. The Knights got the Stacy lid-lifter two minutes later, but the Maroon & White countered with goals by Will Bennett at 3:06 and Hayden Weaver at 2:11. Bennett's goal marked his 41st of the season and the 100th point of his career. Weaver's 36th of the spring came on a physical mash-up of a play near the left goal post, a tangle of sticks and wills that resulted in a fadeaway whistler finding room over the shoulder of Knights netminder Braeden Madasz.

River's 2-1 lead was extended to 3-1 on a late-quarter man-up goal by Ryan Hildebrand. The goal assisted by Nathan Robertson would be the first of two extra-man goals for the Pirates, who during the regular season struggled mightily in play of the 6-on-5 variety. It would also be the front half of two-point nights for both Hildebrand and Robertson.

Rocky River took a 3-1 lead into the second quarter. The fourth minute of the second frame amounted to 60 seconds of heart-stopping, back-and-forth action, with marvelous plays turned in by both sides and in lightning-quick succession. At 8:55, Rochester made a brilliant stop of a rocket shot which turned into a spinner when it was deflected to the turf. Rochester alertly scooped up the spinning orb before it could cross the goal line. Just as alertly, the Knights pounced on the ensuing clear and whipped up another grade-A scoring chance. The result was another 10-bell save by the senior goalie so hot in the crease he may need to legally add a 'C' to the front of his first name. Rochester's second such save in 18 seconds sent thunderous cheers ringing through the stadium. It was a shot of electricity the Pirates would cash in on at the other end.

At the eight-minute mark, Hildebrand muscled his way through a Knight defender to deliver a pass to the waiting cross of Aidan McDonald. The senior launched a 7-yard missile that evaded the outstretched stick of Madasz, flew under the crossbar, and crashed into the netting underneath. McDonald's goal was an emphatic, bold-Sharpie exclamation mark on a remarkable 55-second stretch. It was a two-goal swing of the starkest variety. Unlikely at both ends; undeniable in impact in what would finish as a two-goal River win.

With St. Francis misfiring on five shots the rest of the half -- perhaps wisely attempting to avoid anything Rochester could snare -- the Pirates went into halftime leading 4-1.

River extended that lead to 5-1 with an early-third-period man-up goal by Bennett. But a game and well-coached group from Toledo battled back. Forrest Stacy landed his second goal of the game at 7:12 of the third. Charley Werner then planted a goal on an assist from Alex Harms at 1:10. Momentum to the Knights.

Until it was wrested away. Taken back in a daring act of Pirate thievery, on a play set up by a Rochester ground ball (he would have five for the game) and a spectacular dash and delivery from midfielder Mack Massad.

Massad's lengthy pass found a powering-down-the-right-side Robby Lang in stride. In that moment, with 20 seconds on the clock, the pellet was a Pirate weapon. And it was about to be delivered as an absolute dagger. With 17.6 seconds remaining in the quarter, Lang loosed a long shot that found twine. The Knights had been countered. Just in time and in a definitive way. Rocky River led 6-3 heading into the fourth.

A desperation-mode St. Francis squad was tagged with four penalties in the final stanza, a period which witnessed just two shots on goal -- one for each side. The Knights' one was a brilliant goal by Joe Petro who willed his way through traffic to whip a mid-slot shot past Rochester at 5:40 of the fourth. The scoreboard digit blinked a switch from 3 to 4 on the St. Francis side. But the only electricity that apparatus would use the rest of the way was to run the clock, and the Pirates closed out their 6-4 win.

Individual stat-column performances were registered: Mack Massad went 9-4 on 13 faceoffs (after going 3-9 in the March 27 game against the Knights); Rochester had five saves and as many ground balls; Charlie Hudson spilled and scooped his way to two caused turnovers and five ground balls. But Head Coach Bobby Perez noted that Thursday's Region 5 championship was earned in an all-hands-on-deck effort. One from the coaching staff on down. To the bench and onto the field and on every part of it. An improvement, from past setbacks in tournament play, and an improvement in this year's squad from March to now.

"So many guys stepped up and played smart but with passion," said Perez. "In so many little parts of the game, these guys have improved, and it showed tonight in front of a home crowd that gave us so much energy."

That energy is now a full gale filling every fully-extended sheet of a Pirate clipper sailing into Final Four waters. Hoist the Jolly Roger -- the Sons of Blackbeard are on the attack.


Rocky River will meet Chagrin Falls in a Buckeye State semifinal on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Strongsville High School. The game marks a rematch of a May 11 setback at Chagrin Falls when the Tigers defeated the Pirates, 8-5.

MANNING UP: River has now scored two man-up goals in back-to-back games. The Pirates are 5-for-their-last-10 with an extra man; that stretch comes after the team had gone just 9-of-50 (18.0%) over its first 17 games.

CREASE ROCHESTER: Reece Rochester is the last line of defense for a River team which has yielded just 14 goals over four playoff games. The Double-R's Double-R owns a .580 save percentage (145-of-250) on the season. He has logged a .645 mark (118-of-183) since April 17.

by Skip Snow

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