NYA back on track after interclass win over TA
YARMOUTH—Three days after a painful loss at rival Yarmouth, the North Yarmouth Academy boys' lacrosse team needed to make a statement Saturday morning, when it hosted Thornton Academy for an interclass battle.
But at halftime, the Panthers weren't getting the job done, being hindered by turnovers and penalties.
Then, in the second half, NYA was at its best, taking care of the ball, finishing scoring opportunities and playing smothering defense as it pulled away for an 11-3 victory.
Senior Eliott Wellenbach was a matchup nightmare for the Golden Trojans, scoring three goals, adding an assist, winning 13 of 18 faceoffs and collecting 10 ground balls and the Panthers' defense held Thornton Academy scoreless for the final 30 minutes, 13 seconds as NYA improved to 6-3 and dropped the Golden Trojans to 6-4.
"We woke up a little bit," said Panthers coach Peter Gerrity. "(In the second quarter, we) stopped playing our game and we were reacting. We got back to our game in the second half, as you can tell. It was a lot more fun. We cleaned up our penalties and played our game and everything fell into place."
Early to rise
Saturday morning's game was just the fifth all-time between the programs (please see sidebar, below). After an eight-year gap, the squads squared off in Saco a year ago, where NYA prevailed in a defensive struggle, 3-1. The Panthers won the other three meetings by a composite 39-8 margin.
Thornton Academy entered the game 6-3, losing at Cheverus, Kennebunk and South Portland.
NYA suffered a tough loss to start the season, 7-6, to visiting rival Yarmouth, but the Panthers turned things around with a 16-4 win at Wells, then made everyone sit up and take notice by rallying from 5-1 down to defeat visiting Cape Elizabeth, 9-6. Wins at three-time defending Class A champion Scarborough (8-5) and Fryeburg (12-2) followed before NYA lost a rematch of the past two Class B state finals, 8-5, at Falmouth. After a 15-4 home win over Gorham, the Panthers lost at Yarmouth Wednesday, 11-6.
"We were mentally underpreapred," Gerrity said, of the loss to the Clippers. "The kids weren't 100 percent ready to go. The first game we were overexcited and Wednesday, we weren't excited enough."
Saturday, NYA struggled for a time, then demonstrated that when it's clicking, it's very tough to beat.
The Panthers went ahead for good just 3 minutes, 8 seconds into the game when senior T.J. Daigler scored unassisted.
Midway through the first quarter, senior Jacob Scammon set up classmate Matt Hawkins for a rocket that Thornton Academy junior goalie Jack Grondin couldn't stop, making it 2-0.
When senior Jeremy Sylvain finished a feed from Wellenbach with 29.6 seconds to go in the first for a 3-0 advantage, it looked like NYA might be on its way to an easy win, but the Golden Trojans would get the better of the play in the second quarter.
Just 1:22 in, the visitors got on the board when, out of a timeout, junior Taylor Browne scored unassisted.
Seconds after a goal from sophomore Isaac Sinclair was waved off for a Panthers' penalty a split second before the shot was released, Thornton Academy managed to score man-up, as Sinclair scored on a rebound with 9:06 left in the half.
The Panthers were able to answer as Scammon set up senior Oliver Silverson for a goal with 8:22 to play before halftime, but the Golden Trojans got another man-up opportunity and again capitalized as senior Josh Cyr passed to junior Ian Carrier, whose shot beat NYA sophomore goalie D.J. Nicholas to make it a 4-3 game with 6:13 remaining.
Both goalie stepped up big to keep that score in place the rest of the half.
Grondin robbed Silverson, Sylvain and Silverson again, while Nicholas made a clutch save on a bid by Browne which would have tied the score.
The Panthers only led, 4-3, at halftime, due in large part to 20 first half turnovers and six penalties, good for 2 minutes, 40 seconds.
At halftime, NYA collected itself, wasn't penalized again until the game was well in hand and got some separation.
After Scammon hit the post a minute into the second half, Wellenbach, who was frustrated early on by shots that were either saved or hit field players, scored unassisted with 10:32 to play in the third quarter for a 5-3 advantage.
Silverson (from Hawkins at 8:58) scored to make it 6-3 and with 4:28 remaining in the stanza, Scammon scored unassisted to for a 7-3 Panthers' lead.
"We tried to beat them at their physical game (in the first half), then we came out and passed around on offense and had good, settled possession defense," said NYA junior defender Wes Bright.
Any doubt was erased in the fourth quarter when Scammon dodged two defenders and finished at 9:20, Daigler set up Hawkins a little over a minute later and Wellenbach scored unassisted with 5:48 to go.
With 2:58 to play, Wellenbach scored one final goal (unassisted) and NYA went on to the 11-3 triumph.
"We needed to find our mojo and we clicked the second half," Wellenbach said. "We needed to play our game. We were hitting a lot (in the first half, but we) needed to move the ball."
"This was a good rebound game after Yarmouth," Bright said.
"If we're nervous, we're on our heels and turnovers will happen," Gerrity added. "If we play our game and we're ready to go, turnovers disappear."
Wellenbach was one of six Panthers to tickle the twine. He did so three times, while Hawkins, Scammon and Silverson all had two goals and Daigler and Sylvain had one goal each. Scammon added two assists, while Daigler, Hawkins and Wellenbach each had one. Nicholas made five saves.
Wellenbach won 13 of the 18 faceoffs, including seven in a row in one stretch.
"I love having my two poles, (senior) Aidan (McLaughlin) and (sophomore) Ben (Ambrose), on the wing," Wellenbach said. "They're fast and can go win ground balls. If I don't get it, they will and if the other team gets it, they'll get it away from them."
"Eliott had a good game," Gerrity said. "I was waiting for him to get back to doing a very good job in the faceoff circle."
Wellenbach also had 10 of NYA's 65 ground balls. Bright also collected 10 ground balls.
"In the fourth quarter, we changed our slide package, so that allowed me to pressure a little bit harder," Bright said. "In the first two quarters, I thought I had to just get the ball upfield. I got too excited. In the second half, I settled down and threw good, clean checks. I think what makes us so good is that we have a good set of takeaway defensemen who can work together and slide efficiently to the ball. I think that's the key to our defense."
"(Wes) did very well today," Gerrity said. "He was awesome. He was hungry for the ball and took it away all over the place."
McLaughlin grabbed nine ground balls and Hawkins had seven.
The Panthers turned the ball over 35 times, but forced 36 giveaways. They had a 29-17 advantage in shots (23-8 on cage).
Thornton Academy's goals came from Brown, Carrier and Gamage. Cyr had the lone assist. Grondin made 11 saves and had a team-high five ground balls. Sophomore Chris Camire came on to play goal at the end of the game and made one save.
Thornton Academy (fourth in the Heal Points standings) closes with a game at Deering Wednesday and a home test versus Scarborough May 28.
NYA leapfrogged Yarmouth for the No. 2 spot in the Eastern B Heals (Gardiner is first) and plays host to Waynflete Tuesday. The Panthers visit Cape Elizabeth Friday before closing the year at home May 29 versus Falmouth.
"We can still move the ball around better on offense," Wellenbach said. "Defense-wise, we're doing well. Our second slide needs a little work, but our goalie's great. I think we'll move along nicely."
"I think we're on our way to a solid playoff run," Bright said. "We need to settle our clears down, keep the ball and limit our turnovers. I feel like our defense has stepped up big to fill the shoes that were left for us."
"We have to play our game every time we step on the field," Gerrity added. "This last stretch is tough. We haven't played Waynflete in awhile, then we have Cape and Falmouth. We have our work cut out for us."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.
Previous NYA-TA results
NYA 3 @ TA 1
NYA 14 @ TA 3
@ NYA 12 TA 2
NYA 13 @ TA 3