Inaugural Underclass All-Star Game a big hit
(Photos by Mike Strout)
SACO—Most all-star games are a devoid of defense and feature players who frankly don't care all that much whether they win or lose.
That wasn't the case Wednesday evening at Thornton Academy in a new all-star contest, one that promises to only get bigger going forward.
As the nightcap of the Maine All-Star Showcase, sponsored by Atlantic Sportswear and LaxPros, 38 of the state's finest underclassmen boys' lacrosse players put their skills on display in a 60-minute battle which came down to the final horn.
LaxPros was ahead much of the way, but Atlantic Sportswear went on an 8-0 run in the second half to lead, 14-10. Back came LaxPros, however, pulling within a goal with just over a minute to play, but it couldn't quite get the equalizer and Atlantic Sportswear held on for a 15-14 triumph.
"I'm very happy with the way it came together," said Chris Richards, the former Falmouth assistant coach, who played the lead role in organizing the game. "The kids played hard. There was no cheap stuff. Just end-to-end playing, showcasing the kids' talents. Great individual efforts. Great team efforts. This was my dream and I couldn't be happier with how they played their hearts out today."
A ton of talent
Wednesday's festivities commenced with the 14th annual Maine Lacrosse Coaches' Association Senior All-Star Game, which, not surprisingly, featured an abundance of offense and a 17-16 win for the "Penobscot" team over "Abenaki." Morse standout and All-American Alex Paulus led the way for Penobscot with six goals. Wells' Spencer Sibley had five for Abenaki in defeat.
Then, it was the underclassmen's turn.
"We've had a senior game, but we thought, what happens with the underclass guys?" Richards said. "They spend all this money to go out of state. Let's let the in-state people see them. It took a lot of hours. A lot of work. (The idea) came to me in November at the US Lacrosse meeting. I put it out there, people joined the committee and we met every three weeks at my house for six months. A lot of different personalities. It was a lot of work, but it was a lot of fun. We started with 75 players (at a special tryout Monday at Falmouth High School). We cut it down to 36. There's a lot of talent. We had 12 goalies try out. Eight very good goalies."
Prior to the opening faceoff, a moment of silence was held for longtime South Portland youth coach Ted Hellier, who passed away Monday after a battle with cancer. Hellier was chosen the Maine chapter of U.S. Lacrosse's "Man of the Year." His son, T-Moe, of South Portland, was the starting goalie for the LaxPros team in the first half (Kennebunk's Ben Bath got the nod for Atlantic Sportswear).
It was clear from the start Wednesday that both teams came to play, even if they did have to compete for 12 minutes longer than normal (the game was 60 minutes, instead of the usual 48).
It took a little over two minutes for the first goal to be scored, but Atlantic Sportswear did the honors as Falmouth standout I.V. Stucker (the most skilled player on the field Wednesday) passed to Greely's Mitch Mullin for a goal and a 1-0 lead.
Back roared LaxPros, as South Portland's Duncan Preston scored unassisted, Scarborough's Christian Neelon took a pass from teammate Andrew Farrington before finishing and Cheverus' Jack Sutton tickled the twine, capping a three-goal surge in a 5 minute, 15 second span for a 3-1 advantage.
Atlantic Sportswear then went on a run, as Kennebunk's Tyler Elkington (unassisted), Waynflete's Harry Baker-Connick (from Falmouth's Tyler Jordan) and Thornton Academy's Taylor Browne (from Stucker) all struck to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 lead.
An unassisted tally from Scarborough's Nate Howard pulled LaxPros even after one period, 4-4.
LaxPros opened up a lead in the second.
Just 54 seconds in, Gardiner's Josh Caldwell scored unassisted. Farrington added a transition goal to make it 6-4. After Atlantic Sportswear got within one on an unassisted goal from Gorham's Colin Harvey, LaxPros got an unassisted goal after a great individual effort from Howard and an unassisted tally from Sutton to take an 8-5 lead to halftime.
"We were playing it to win," said LaxPros' co-coach Bob Johnson, the longtime Waynflete coach, now retired, who was joined by Falmouth's Mike LeBel on the sidelines. "We assumed they're good enough players with good enough instincts. We give them a basic set-up and tell them how we're running the offense and defense and let them go. They're all great players."
Even though there were a lot of goals, both goalies (Chris Mrvichen of Brunswick for LaxPros and North Yarmouth Academy's D.J. Nicholas for Atlantic Sportswear) would sparkle in a fast-paced second half.
LaxPros twice went up by four goals in the third period, but Atlantic Sportswear would roar back.
After five scoreless minutes, which featured head-turning saves at both ends, LaxPros made it 9-5 on an unassisted strike from Waynflete's Henry Cleaves. Atlantic Sportswear got a goal back when Stucker struck unassisted, but with 7:14 to play in the third, an unassisted goal from Farrington put LaxPros up, 10-6, and seemingly in good shape.
Instead, the team wouldn't score for over 16 minutes and by the time it did, it would be down by four.
The Atlantic Sportswear surge began with 6:45 to play in the third period, as Stucker set up Ryan Croatti of Brunswick. Three minutes later, Cape Elizabeth sharpshooter Griffin Thoreck took a pass from Hebron Academy's Jake Bosse and beat Mrvichen to pull his team within two, 10-8, heading for the final stanza.
There, Atlantic Sportswear continued to pour it on.
Just 1:24 in, an unassisted goal from Harvey made it a one-goal game.
Then, with 12:32 left in regulation, Croatti tied it up with an unassisted strike.
With 10:45 showing, Atlantic Sportswear took its first lead since 4-3 and went on top to stay when Stucker set up Scarborough's Austin Doody.
Stucker then put on an individual show, scoring unassisted with 9:54 to play, then doing it again 1:16 later, faking out Mrvichen, then shooting into an open net to make it 13-10.
Baker-Connick then pounced on a rebound and finished with 6:42 remaining, capping the 8-0 run and extending the lead to 14-10.
LaxPros finally awakened from its offensive slumber with 6:04 left, as Wells' Ryan Marsh finished a feed from Brunswick's Cam Glover.
Atlantic Sportswear would answer, however, as with 3:35 to play, Bosse got the ball to Mullin and Mullin finished to again make it a four-goal game, 15-11.
That insurance goal would loom very large as LaxPros made one final, desperate push.
Off the ensuing faceoff, LaxPros got possession and NYA's Jackson Cohan-Smith set up Glover for a goal to cut the deficit to three with 3:24 left.
Exactly a minute later, Cleaves scored unassisted and the score was 15-13.
When Preston finished unassisted, after a series of pretty individual moves, Atlantic Sportswear's lead was a mere goal with 1:26 still to go.
Atlantic Sportswear would hold on, but not without some anxious moments.
LaxPros got possession and as the clock went under a minute, entered the attacking zone, but an offsides penalty turned the ball over.
With 34 seconds to play, Atlantic Sportswear committed a turnover and making matters worse, Stucker was sent off for 30 seconds for delay of game, giving LaxPros a man-advantage in its quest for the equalizer.
LaxPros couldn't do anything with the gift, however, turning the ball over with 17 seconds left.
After an Atlantic Sportswear timeout, it ran a few seconds off the clock, but the ball came back to LaxPros after a turnover with 6.5 seconds remaining, giving it one final look.
The ball was rushed downfield and wound up on the stick of Glover, but his shot came just after the horn and it wouldn't have tied the game anyway, as Nicholas made the save, bringing the curtain down on the thriller.
Atlantic Sportswear 15 LaxPros 14.
"I'm really ecstatic," said Atlantic Sportswear co-coach Joe Hezlep, who just led Scarborough to its fourth straight Class A championship Saturday (Hezlep was joined as coach by Deering's Jon Dubois). "The kids bought into coming out and putting on a great night of lacrosse. Before the game, we just wanted to put athletes in spots to make plays. Clearly we did. There were shining spots all over the field. They were playing to win. I couldn't have asked for more effort. They played hard and did justice to the people who put it together. They made it a first-class event."
"I told them at the end I was really happy because we could have easily folded when we were four down, but we didn't." Johnson said. "They had that big run and the NYA goalie made a couple beautiful saves."
Stucker and Hellier were named their team's respective MVPs.
Stucker led all scorers with three goals and three assists. Atlantic Sportswear got two goals apiece from Baker-Connick, Croatti, Harvey and Mullin and one each from Browne, Doody, Elkington and Thoreck. Bosse added two assists, while Delorenzo and Jordan both had one. Nicholas stopped seven shots, while Bath made four saves.
Atlantic Sportswear had a 32-25 shots on cage advantage.
For LaxPros, Cleaves, Farrington, Howard, Preston and Sutton all had two goals. Caldwell, Glover, Marsh and Neelon each tickled the twine once. Cohan-Smith, Farrington and Glover all had one assist. Mrvichen made 12 second half saves. Hellier stopped five shots in the first half.
The sport of lacrosse continues to grow in Maine and as a result, local players are finding more opportunities to measure themselves against players from out of state and to go on and play in college.
As part of that movement, you can expect the 2014 version of the Underclassmen All-Star Showcase to be even bigger and better.
"It looks good for the future of Maine lacrosse," Hezlep said. "This shows what we can do. It's good for kids to play a game like this and it's good for the state to see a game like this."
"I think this says it would be nice to have some showcase tournaments in this area," Johnson said. "We still have a long way to go comparatively, but tonight was great. A good crowd. Kids showed up and cared."