Nike/US Lacrosse South Region Report
by Laurel Pfahler | LaxMagazine.com
Robert Jacobs, Benjamin (Fla.)
The senior attackman scored the game-winner in overtime to beat Vero Beach (Fla.) 12-11 in a second-round state tournament play-in game on April 26. He finished the night with four goals and three assists. Jacobs tallied 18 goals and nine assists overall during the Buccaneers’ first four playoff games, including a five-goal effort against Jupiter, which was then ranked No. 4 in the South. He leads the team with 52 goals on the season.
Andrew Graffy, St. Mark’s (Texas)
The senior attackman had three goals and one assist in an 8-4 win over defending state champion Highland Park on April 18, a rematch of last year’s state final. He also netted two goals and two assists in a 16-9 win over Episcopal Dallas in the conference championship and scored a late goal in a 6-5 win over Westlake in the second round of the Austin Super Regionals to help the Lions advance to the state semifinals.
Corey John, Lassiter (Ga.)
The junior attackman had three goals and one assist in a 14-8 win over McCallie (Tenn.) on April 27 and also had five goals and one assist in a 14-2 win over Lovett on April 18. He is the team’s second leading scorer with 34 goals this season.
Games to Watch
St. Andrew’s (Fla.)/Columbus Catholic (Fla.) winner vs. Benjamin (Fla.)/Barron Collier (Fla.) winner – May 3 at West Orange (Fla.)
This state semifinal matchup could pair up two South Region-ranked teams if St. Andrew’s and Benjamin both get through the third round of state play-in games. St. Andrew’s has coasted through the first two rounds, while Benjamin has had to battle to advance. The two teams played in the first week of the season with the Scots pulling out an 11-8 win.
Highland Park (Texas) vs. St. Mark’s (Texas) – May 4 at Plano West’s John Clark Field (Dallas)
This is a rematch of last year’s state championship game, which Highland Park won 5-4. The two teams also played in the regular-season finale on April 18, an 8-4 win for St. Mark’s. It’s been a back-and-forth series, as the Lions had won the regular-season matchup last year before falling in the state final. The winner meets either Episcopal Dallas (Texas) or Dallas Jesuit (Texas) in the state championship, as those two teams also are playing for a second time this season. Dallas Jesuit won the first meeting 8-7.
1. St. Andrew's (Fla.), 18-3
The Scots are three wins away from their 10th state title in 12 years, despite a scare in their district championship. They trailed Boca Raton (Fla.) 9-7 in the fourth quarter, but scored five unanswered goals in the last five minutes to claim the district title with a 12-9 win. St. Andrew's, whose losses were all to out-of-state teams, didn't leave any room for doubt in the first two rounds of play-in games, outscoring Wellington (Fla.) and Pine Crest (Fla.) by a combined 30-9 to advance to the third round against Columbus Catholic (Fla.), which upset St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.). Conor Whipple had four goals and three assists against Boca Raton, and Steve Reall led the Scots in a 13-3 win over Pine Crest, tallying four goals and two assists.
2. Dallas Jesuit (Texas), 14-2
The Rangers are back in the final four after beating Episcopal Houston (Texas) 13-2 in the second round of the Houston Super Regionals on April 28. They had earned a bye through the first round as the No. 2 seed in the North District. Dallas Jesuit ended its regular season with an 8-7 win over fellow state semifinalist Episcopal Dallas, which ended The Woodlands' perfect season in the super regional champion. John Wheeler scored the game-winner for Jesuit, who suffered a one-goal loss to Highland Park (Texas) on April 13. The Rangers' only other loss was by two goals to nationally-ranked Gilman (Md.) in the King of Spring Classic.
3. Benjamin (Fla.), 16-2
The Buccaneers made a big leap into the rankings after avenging a regular-season loss to Jupiter (Fla.), which was previously ranked No. 4, with a 9-7 win in the first round of state tournament play-in games April 23. The game was tied 6-6 with 3:32 to play, but Benjamin scored three goals over the next two minutes and held on for the win with the help of a season-best 15 saves by goalie Anthony Cicio. The Bucs followed that with another notable victory, 12-11 in overtime, against a quality Vero Beach (Fla.) team that finished 15-3. Benjamin needs just one more win for their first FHSAA Final Four appearance. The team's only other loss was to No. 1 St. Andrew's (Fla.).
4. St. Mark's (Texas), 16-3
The Lions earned a spot back in the rankings after beating Highland Park (Texas) 8-4 in the regular-season finale April 18 – a game it never trailed in after taking a 4-1 lead the first quarter. They won a North District playoff game against Allen to earn the fourth seed in the Austin Super Regional Tournament, and then beat Houston Christian (Texas), 11-2, and Westlake (Texas), 6-5, to advance to the Final Four. St. Mark's also won the Southwest Preparatory Conference with a win over Episcopal Dallas (Texas) in the championship game and now prepares for a rematch against Highland Park in the state semifinals May 4.
5. Highland Park (Texas), 14-2
The Fighting Scots hit a bump in their last game of the regular season, losing 8-4 to St. Mark's (Texas) five days after a one-goal victory over Dallas Jesuit, but they earned a rematch with the Lions in the state semifinals with a 12-6 win over St. John's (Texas) on April 28 in the second round of the Austin Super Regionals. Highland Park, the defending state champion, earned a bye into the regional championship as the top seed in the North District and led St. John's (Texas) 8-2 at halftime. The Scots, who own four victories over out-of-state opponents, had won 13 in a row going into their first matchup with St. Mark's.
6. Lake Highland Prep (Fla.), 17-5
After claiming their fifth-straight district title and winning their first-round state tournament play-in game with ease, the Highlanders held off Lake Brantley 7-4 to advance to the third round, as junior goalkeeper Adam Sawicki finished with 12 saves. It was Lake Highland's second win over the Patriots in two weeks and just Lake Brantley's third loss of the season. The Highlanders have three losses against Florida opponents – St. Andrew's, Benjamin and Jupiter – and their two out-of-state losses were to nationally ranked Boys' Latin (Md.) and Calvert Hall (Md.), both by four goals.
7. Lassiter (Ga.), 14-2
With one more regular-season game left to play, the Trojans are peaking at the right time after suffering losses to fellow Georgia 6A-Area 2 teams Milton and Walton earlier this year – something that unfortunately puts them on the road through the playoffs as the region's third seed. Since an unexpected 8-7 loss to Walton on March 28, Lassiter has won six straight, including a 14-8 win over McCallie (Tenn.), which was previously ranked No. 7 in the South. The Trojans were up just 5-4 at halftime and 8-6 after three quarters but scored six goals in the fourth quarter to put the game away. Ten different players scored for Lassiter. Jack Fitzharris leads the offense this season with 37 goals and 17 assists.
8. Jupiter (Fla.), 17-3
The Warriors ended their season with a hard-fought 9-7 loss to Benjamin in the first round of state play-in games. Benjamin took the lead for good with 3:22 left, scoring three straight goals before Jupiter's Zach Crotty laced one with 25 seconds left for the final goal. Jesse Foertmeyer led the Warriors with two goals, while James Holdt added a goal and two assists. Jupiter's only other losses were back-to-back close games to St. Andrews (Fla.) and Vero Beach (Fla.), which went on to lose to Benjamin in overtime the next round.
9. McCallie (Tenn.), 16-2
The Blue Tornado suffered its first loss to a Georgia team this year, falling 14-8 to Lassiter (Ga.) on April 27 after already picking up wins over Milton (Ga.), Centennial (Ga.), Decatur (Ga.) and Pope (Ga.). McCallie had won nine straight games going into the Lassiter matchup – an evenly played game until the fourth quarter when the Trojans outscored the Tornado 6-2. Braiden Davis had three goals, and goalkeeper Tate Boyce finished with nine saves. McCallie's only other loss was to nationally-ranked Calvert Hall (Md.).
10. Ponte Vedra (Fla.), 20-2
The Sharks earned a chance to avenge their 9-8 regular-season loss to Maclay (Fla.) when the two teams meet in a third-round state play-in game April 30. Ponte Vedra has won 13 straight games since that March 16 loss, including a notable win over Lake Brantley (Fla.) and an overtime win over Creekside (Fla.) in the District 5 championship. The Sharks' only other loss was 9-6 to Lake Highland Prep the first week of the season and they won their only out-of-state game, 12-7 win over Cannon School (N.C.).
News and Notes
Offense surges at right time
Benjamin (Fla.) relied on its defense to carry it through the early part of the season, but as the Buccaneers advance through the postseason, the offense is starting to pull more weight.
Coach Riordan Cheatham said it took a long time for the offense to find its rhythm without former All-American midfielder Colby Kempe, who has been limited to just six games because of a foot injury and more recently a broken collar bone. The offense is expected to run through Kempe, but Cheatham said the team has adjusted with players like Robert Jacobs stepping up.
The Bucs average 12 goals a game this season, while allowing opponents 5.7 goals per game.
"We are playing the best ball we have played all season," Cheatham said. "It's taken us unusually long to get our offense moving the ball and understanding where to go in scoring. We haven't been putting up huge numbers, but fortunately we have a good defense to keep us in games and get us a bunch of 'Ws' while our offense was working out kinks."
Cheatham said the improvements showed in the Bucs' second matchup with Jupiter, though it was still relatively low-scoring at 9-7. Benjamin lost the first meeting 6-4.
"Our offense stunk the first game against Jupiter," Cheatham said. "We were uncharacteristically throwing the ball away and not possessing. The turnovers were awful. I knew we were better than that. We just didn't execute. We knew if we got another chance, it would still be a dog-fight because Jupiter is loaded with talent, but we knew it could only get better for us."
Cheatham said he had high expectations coming into the season. Benjamin lost six players to graduation from last year's 12-6 team but the Bucs are led by 10 seniors – the largest senior class they've had in a while. Five of them will play in college next year.
Now that Cheatham has seen the team come together like he hoped, he would like to see the Bucs finish what they started.
"It's been a special season, for sure," Cheatham said. "We've got the ability to make a little run, but we have to take it one game at a time."
Going into this season, Lassiter (Ga.) hadn't lost an area game since 2003.
The Trojans lost two Georgia 6A-Area 2 games this year, falling to Milton (Ga.) and Walton (Ga.), and now will have to do something they haven't had to do much of in the past in order to make a deep postseason run — win on the road.
Lassiter likely will be the third seed when the playoffs begin May 8, meaning it will not have home-field advantage the Trojans enjoyed when they won three state titles in five years.
Fortunately for the Trojans, they've been on a nice run since their last loss. They've won six straight going into the regular-season finale May 1 against Riverwood (Ga.).
"We're peaking right when we need to," said coach Brendan Leezer, who noted his team's defense didn't wake up in the 8-7 loss to Walton until the third quarter. "We're primed for the playoffs, but we've lost our home-field advantage, so we're really going to have to earn it to make a run to the championship."
Leezer said while most of the top teams in Georgia boast talented offenses, his team has something he hopes can make a difference in the playoffs — an aggressive defense that allows an average of just 4.6 goals a game.
The Trojans are winning 60 percent of faceoffs and 68 percent of ground balls, while All-American goalkeeper Ryan Smith is saving 68 percent of the shots he's faced.
"Offensively, everyone is working together and our defense is definitely clicking, so we're back to where we were at the end of last year," Leezer said. "Hopefully, we can turn it up a notch and be right where we were."
The Woodlands (18-1) enjoyed a perfect regular season, but it didn't last long enough, as the Highlanders fell short against Episcopal Dallas (Texas), 11-10, in the second round of the Houston Super Regional on April 28 and dropped from the rankings.
The Woodlands had taken a 4-0 lead seven minutes into the game but trailed 6-5 at halftime and never had an advantage in the second half. Ben Lipscomb tied the game at 10 with 3:32 left but the Eagles' Sam Ramano scored the eventual game-winner less than a minute later.
The Highlanders had earned wins over five of the other 11 teams to make it to the regional tournament, including defending champion Highland Park in February. However, Highland Park is the only team still standing that the Woodlands beat.
For Episcopal Dallas, a tough schedule seems to be paying off. The Eagles have three losses to Maryland/D.C. area teams, and they have lost to all three of the other state semifinalists this season (Dallas Jesuit, St. Mark's and Highland Prep) with a chance to avenge at least two of those as they head into the Final Four.
Note: The Nike/US Lacrosse Regional rankings will not necessarily reflect the same order as the Nike/US Lacrosse National Top 25 poll, which is voted on by US Lacrosse area representatives and Lacrosse Magazine contributors, who compile the regional rankings.