Defense, Tjotjos goals send River to state lax final
Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
With the final minute of the game ticking off the scoreboard clock, all Rocky River head coach Steve Anderson could do was watch.
His Pirates were leading University School, 8-7, in the Division II state lacrosse semifinals. An illegal procedure call had given the Preppers the ball moments earlier, and now it was up to the River defense to get the job done.
“Come on defense. Come on...,” Anderson said to himself as goalie Aaron Blossey and the River defense deflected a USchool shot with 24 seconds left with the Preppers a man up. Then with 10 seconds left, the Pirates recovered a fumbled ball and sent it flying down field.
The Pirates were heading to the state championship game.
The huge student section stormed the field in celebration as the Pirate program not only advanced, but knocked off their tournament nemesis in the process. The 8-7 win was River’s first over USchool, which had eliminated the Pirates the past two seasons.
The program’s first state championship game will be played Saturday at 2 p.m. at Thomas Worthington High School near Columbus. The Pirates will take on the top seed in the Division II Central Division, Columbus DeSales, a 9-7 winner over Indian Hill Wednesday night.
“I think coming out strong against them was big for us,” Anderson said. “We’ve come out strong every game this season except our last game. Our players came out loose and they expected to be on top of things in the first quarter.
“Our defense on the season is allowing just over five goals per game,” said Anderson, whose team moved to 15-3 on the season. “And that’s been against some tough competition.
“Really for us, it’s been about making small adjustments along the way, plus we have some fantastic athletes defensively. We play really good, solid team defense and some good pressure D as well.”
“We were a man down at the end, but they’ve been doing it all season for us. Yeah, I was praying to the gods a little bit watching the clock slowly tick away,” he added.
The River defense played strong most of the game, playing a key role in maintaining the lead throughout the first three quarters. And thanks to seniors Ty Daugstrup and Andreas Tjotjos, there was just enough offense to get the job done against an equally staunch USchool defense.
Daugstrup wound up with two goals and three assists, while Tjotjos had a monster night with four goals and an assist. His last two goals were huge, coming in the fourth quarter from about 20 yards out up top.
The Preppers had tied the game at 6-6 during the first three minutes of the quarter. With 7:01 left, Tjotjos took a pass from Daugstrup and fired a bullet through the USchool defense, past goalie Mats Whitmyer and into the net to give the lead back to the Pirates at 7-6.
The visitors tied it again with 5:13 left on a Jeff Reimann goal, his third of the half. But with 2:53 remaining, Tjotjos took his position up top, took a pass from Eric Sperli and ripped it through the defense - and the hearts - of the Preppers again for what proved to be the game winner.
“The whole game, they were running their defense down low,” Tjotjos said. “I think they underestimated our whole team. When I was up top, they didn’t cover me. I saw the shot, and I took it.
“We took the momentum from the St. Francis game (an 8-7 overtime win) and rolled it into this game,” he said. “We came out hot and went from there. I really can’t describe what I’m feeling right now. It hasn’t hit me yet, it really hasn’t,” he said with grin a mile wide.
Daugstrup, whose second goal in the first half gave the Pirates a 4-2 lead, described what it was like to record one of the biggest wins in the program’s history.
“It’s all about getting off to a good start,” Daugstrup said. “We wanted to get off to a better start than we did against them last year, and we were able to push on from there.
“Andreas and I have been working all year on the two-man game, and it came out perfect for us tonight. The last minute was nerve racking,” he admitted. “You don’t know what will happen. Anything can happen in a matter of seconds.
“Our defense against these guys was clutch. They’ve got great players out there. They’ve got Hayes McGinley, who is a fantastic player. Mike Poe did a great job of marking him in the second half,” he added.
Tjotjos scored the first goal of the game off a Daugstrup assist with just under four minutes gone in the first quarter. With 5:36 left in the first, Daugstrup scored on a Tjotjos assist to make it 3-1 River. Daugstrup’s second goal came off a pass from Bobby Perez. That made it 4-2, River with 3:14 left in the half.
“They’ve been on the same midfield line for three years,” Anderson said of the Daugstrup-Tjotjos combination. “You can see how they click. In some ways, I just step back and let them use their athleticism, and they both did that again tonight.”
River also had goals from Michael Henry in the first and Sperli with 23 seconds left in the second. But three unassisted goals from McGinley, the last one coming with 6.2 seconds left in the half, kept the Preppers close.
The two teams traded goals in the third quarter, with the Pirates holding a 24-14 shots advantage heading into the fourth quarter. But the two quick goals by USchool to start the final 12 minutes had the large crowd on the edge of their seats for the final seven minutes of play.
The Preppers seemed to have momentum in their favor. But they left Tjotjos alone up top down the stretch and paid the price
“The last two years, they’ve really beaten us pretty good,” Anderson said. “It’s only natural to come in and think you’re going to have a game where you’ll control things and win. I think our players recognized that. We’re a different team than we were the past two years.
“The guys really learned from our game with them last year. I’m blessed with some very intelligent players. They really listen and they want to learn. They pretty much soak in everything we tell them.
“I have fantastic assistant coaches too with two Division I players and one professional player. So it’s pretty easy to get the players’ attention,” he added.
Anderson said the hometown crowd was a big factor as well.
“The atmosphere tonight was wonderful,” Anderson said. “I think the whole city was ready for this. The word was spreading that there was a big game tonight, and we had great weather, so it all worked out great,” he added.