If there are two things you can be certain of in MAC lacrosse, it is that the tournament final will be between the Flint Hill Huskies and Potomac School Panthers, and that the game will be decided by a single goal. For the third consecutive year, that exact scenario played out yet again in the all-important final game for the conference championship. The only question that seemed to remain was which team would reach out and grab that edge.
Avenging their 10-9 loss in last season’s title game, the Huskies clung on to a 4-3 lead for a tense final two minutes of the thrilling affair, and managed to hold on to take back the tournament championship.
“This is a really great rivalry to be a part of, and it seems like it always comes down to a close game like this one,” said Flint Hill head coach Adam Rice after the game. “We just really gave it everything we had left. We knew we just had to stay patient and positive, and eventually it would come.”
Another key difference between this game and the previous two was that, for the most part, the true battle was between the two defenses; or more specifically, the two goalies. Outstanding performances from the goalies at both ends – senior Chris Nelson for Flint Hill, and junior Connor Laughlin for Potomac – kept the frustrated offenses at bay for much of the game, particularly in the first half.
The Panthers were the only team to score in that entire first half, as David Freemyer ripped a low shot into the bottom left corner with just over three minutes remaining in the first quarter. The one-goal lead would stand for nearly 16 total minutes of playing time.
Both teams would come close in the second quarter – Potomac’s Matt Carney had a shot slip just wide into the side netting, and Flint Hill’s Tyler Lewris hit the crossbar just moments later – but the 1-0 score-line remained until halftime.
An admirable first-half performance from Laughlin in the Potomac net, who made a number of miraculous saves, kept his side ahead, despite the minimal offense. His defensive core in front of him, led by senior captain Tristan Dellar, was equally critical in assuring the net minder was not heavily tested too frequently.
It did not take long in the third quarter for the Huskies to finally find their first goal of the afternoon, however, as just over twenty seconds in, Tim Peterson wrapped around the goal and put one home to bring the Huskies back on level terms. Flint Hill would then take their first lead of the game a few minutes later when Tyler Lewris navigated his way through a group of defenders before pushing the shot inside Laughlin’s left post.
The Huskies’ good fortune would continue to grow as time expired in the third quarter. With less than a minute remaining, a scrappy rebound play was eventually turned in by Danny Evans to put Flint Hill up 3-1 going into the final quarter.
Although Potomac was the team in much greater need of some fourth quarter inspiration, the Huskies increased their lead early, as James Shuler got on the board for Flint Hill with a similar rebound goal to his teammate’s just a few minutes earlier. It was undoubtedly an uphill battle, with just ten minutes remaining and down by three, but the resilient Panthers refused to give up. Another common trait in previous MAC Championship games was comebacks.
Following a few high-pressure possessions, Zach Barsness finally converted for the Panthers, as he intercepted an errant defensive pass from the Huskies, and made no mistake in finishing off the breakaway opportunity. The goal appeared to breathe life into his team, and the game, as Potomac continued to apply pressure.
AD Hoffman brought the game in reach for the Panthers with 2:40 left, as he received a pass from Freemyer and flung another low shot under Nelson’s stick. At 4-3 with less than three minutes remaining, the tension was palpable.
Controversy ensued as the game roared to a close, as Potomac fans erupted when it appeared they had done enough to send the game into overtime, watching the ball bounce into the back of the net. However, the referees, who declared that a Potomac player had fallen inside the crease as the ball was going in, immediately called back their apparent goal with less than 30 seconds left on the clock.
All Flint Hill had to do from there was clear the ball up-field, and storm towards Chris Nelson in celebration at their third tournament championship in four years. Nelson’s 15 saves were paramount to his side’s success, as they held their opposition to three or fewer goals for the seventh time this season.
“I’m speechless basically, it’s an amazing feeling,” said Nelson on his performance. “We beat them during the regular season, but just like last year they came out as a different team today. This year I was a little bit more prepared, and I had a couple big saves to help shift the momentum.”
“We could tell early on that we were going up against a goalie in great form, and we really struggled somewhat in the first half, even though we were doing some of the right things,” admitted Coach Rice. “But, as we have done all season, we just stayed persistent, and that goal early in the second half really gave us a big lift.”
Flint Hill will lose 14 seniors from this year’s squad, including Nelson who will move on to Denison University next season, and will return just 10 players. Those worries are for a later date, however, as today all the Huskies want to do is celebrate yet another hard-fought victory.
Potomac Goal (3:33): David Freemyer, 1-0
Flint Hill Goal (11:39): Tim Peterson, 1-1
Flint Hill Goal (6:37): Tyler Lewris, 2-1
Flint Hill Goal (0:50): Danny Evans, 3-1
Flint Hill Goal (10:30): James Shuler, 4-1
Potomac Goal (6:04): Zach Barsness, 2-4
Potomac Goal (2:40): AD Hoffman, 3-4