River lax returns to Elite Eight with win over Bay
Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
Through one quarter of play, the Bay boys lacrosse team was holding its own against Rocky River. The Rockets’ defense was holding as the Pirates held a slim 2-0 lead after the first 12 minutes.
But with River already having a 14-3 shot advantage, the bottom fell out quickly for Bay.
The Pirates, the number one team in the Division II Northwest Division, scored five unassisted goals in the second quarter and advanced to the Elite Eight with a 14-4 win Wednesday night. Rocky River has now advanced to that level three years in a row and will host Toledo St. Francis DeSales Friday at 6:30 p.m. in the regional championship game.
Friday’s game will be a rematch between two teams that squared off back on March 31. In that game, DeSales rallied for a 6-5 win on its way to a 15-5 record. They blew out Benedictine, 18-2, Wednesday night to advance.
But before any rematch could occur, River had to deal with a Bay team that was coming off a 7-5 win over Padua. With the Rockets hanging tight early, River head coach Steve Anderson called a timeout with 5:01 left in the first quarter as his Pirates were nursing a 1-0 lead.
“We were getting a lot of shots, but we just weren’t placing them properly,” Anderson said. “I wanted the guys to regain their composure, and I think that timeout allowed them to refocus and get the job done.”
Whatever Anderson said worked immediately, as junior attacker Eric Sperli took a pass from senior midfielder Andreas Tjotjos for his first of three goals on the night.
As it turned out, that was just the beginning of a Pirate uprising.
Just eight seconds into the second quarter, senior Ty Daugstrup weaved his way through the Bay defense and beat Bay goalie P.J. Nye for an unassisted goal. Just over a minute later, junior Bobby Perez did the same to make it 4-0 River with 10:31 still remaining in the half.
The Bay defense stiffened and held off the Pirate charge for the next six and a half minutes. But River got unassisted goals from senior Matt Mehrige, Perez and Sperli in the final 3:57 to give the Pirates a 7-0 half-time lead.
In the second quarter alone, River had a 10-5 shots advantage. Nye already had eight saves for the Rockets, but the junior goalie had a tough task at hand as the second half got underway.
The Pirates upped their lead to 11-0 in the third quarter in the first seven minutes. The Sperli-Tjotjos connection opened things up with a goal at 11:16, then three more unassisted goals found the back of the net.
With a two-man advantage, River got a goal from Daugstrap at 9:52. Tjotjos got his first goal seconds later at 9:35, while Mehrige got his second goal at 4:58 to make it 11-0, Pirates.
Just over a minute later, Bay finally got one between the pipes as junior attacker Steve Burns scored an unassisted goal of his own with 3:53 left in the third. The Rockets scored again on as senior midfielder Mitch Voll scored off an assist from fellow senior Reid Wilson.
In the final two minutes, River answered both goals on unassisted scores from Sperli and senior Michael Henry. That’s when play got a bit rougher and a rash of penalties occurred during the fourth quarter.
Bay managed two more goals, with Voll scoring unassisted on the first and making the pass to Burns on the second in the first 1:20. Mehrige, on a Henry assist in a man-up situation, got his hat trick on the night at 8:59, but the penalties prevented either team from mustering much of an attack the rest of the way.
Anderson said his team’s schedule, which included teams like Kent Roosevelt and Hudson, prepared his team for whatever it may face during its tournament run.
“That was the plan, and hopefully we’ll see in the next couple of day if it paid off,” Anderson said. “I think mentally and physically, they’re there and they’re ready. Time will tell.”
“I saw our ability as a team and as individuals to control themselves and walk away from something that might be frustrating,” he said. “Again, our focus is beyond this game. We needed to take care of business in this game and then get ready for the next one.
“I think having the long term in mind really helps our guys stay focused on what the job is. I give Bay credit. They play with a lot of emotion, and they wanted to win. They tried hard, and we worked hard too,” he said.
Bay head coach Ryan Smith, whose team closed out the season at 9-7, declined to comment after the game.
Nye finished the game with 11 saves, as did River goalie Aaron Blossey. The shots on goal statistic was 40-22 in favor of River, which moved to 13-3 on the season.
Now it’s on to Friday’s regional final against DeSalle.
“I think we’re ready, and I know they’re a much improved team as well. Really, it’s a matter of being ready on that given day, and hopefully we are,” Anderson said.