Big 4: Semifinalists Ready for Gold, National Championship Bid
|Sam Winkler of the Maverick
Select (N.J.) U13 team fires a shot during the US Lacrosse
Southeast Championships in Raleigh. Winkler's team will play a
semifinal tomorrow against Dominion (Va.).
RALEIGH, N.C. – Maybe you do get a second chance to make a first impression. Big 4 (Pa.) did, and the Philadelphia-based program's U15 boys' team took advantage of the opportunity in its long, first visit to the 4-year-old US Lacrosse Southeast Championships.
Fueled by three goals from Gray Sallade, fourth-seeded Big 4 raced past fifth-seeded Triad Elite (N.C.), 14-5, in a quarterfinal at the WRAL Soccer Center. Adam Salvaggio and Matthew Marker added two goals each for Big 4, which clinched a berth in tomorrow's final four and an accompanying automatic invitation to the sixth annual US Lacrosse U15 National Championships July 21-23 in Aurora, Colo.
"We wanted to qualify for Denver. What better way to do it than coming to one of these tournaments?" said Eric Gregg, head coach of Big 4.
Big 4 today fared much better against Triad Elite, which reached the bronze-medal game of this event last year, than it did in their event-opening pool-play matchup Friday. Fresh – or not, more likely – off car rides of at least seven hours with some players arriving only minutes before a 5 p.m. faceoff, Big 4 labored to a 4-4 tie.
Many Big 4 players were making first impressions with each other, as well, as Gregg co-founded the program two years ago after participation in the Dukes HHH program soared.
"They're all new guys, mostly eighth-grade guys," Gregg said. "This is a first for them. They knew what the goal was coming in, to get the bid, and it looks like we're going to do it.
Not the easiest of tasks, meshing as a team while trying to outlast eight like-minded squads vying for just four invitations to the national championship.
"It's so fun, and they're all really nice," said attackman TJ Malone, who didn't know many of his would-be teammates when he tried out for Big 4. He wasn't bashful in the quarterfinal win, scoring Big 4's first goal less than two minutes in.
"We wanted to win so much more than before," Malone said. "We had just arrived from Pennsylvania for the first game. It was a long ride."
Big 4 will be joined in the big four tomorrow by top-seeded Dominion 2017 (Va.), second-seeded Carolina Cannons (N.C.) and third-seeded Bamalax (Ala.). Each earns a registration discount to the national championship of at least 25 percent. Dominion will take on Big 4, while Carolina meets Bamalax. The championship game will draw at 12:30 p.m. and be streamed live on coachesaid.com.
Likewise in the U15 Girls' Division, top-seeded Stickbenders (Fla.), second-seeded MC Elite 2018 Midnight (Md.), third-seeded Eagle Stix Atlanta (Ga.) and fifth-seeded MC Elite 2019 Midnight (Md.) qualified automatically for the U15 national championship by reaching the semifinals in Raleigh. Those four survived a field of 16 teams.
In the U13 Boys' Division, top-seeded Big 4 joins second-seeded Maverick Select (N.J.) as northern entries in the semifinals opposite a pair of Virginia squads, third-seeded Dominion and fourth-seeded Lynchburg.
"This is really special," said Big 4 U15 attackman Griffin Dunn. "To be able to play in a national tournament is big, really big."
An appropriate choice of words, no doubt, for a big first impression.
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