Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
Over the years, Rocky River and Toledo St. Francis de Sales have engaged in some epic battles on the lacrosse field. With all the one-goal and overtime games the two teams have played, a rivalry has been built between two of Ohio's top Division 2 programs.
On a cool, breezy Thursday night in Berea, the Pirates and Knights added another chapter to that rivalry. Just not in a way most folks at George Finnie Stadium expected.
The Knights broke open the game in the first half with an 8-0 run within the span of 11 minutes. When it was all said and done, St. Francis, led by a 6-goal performance by junior Noah Best, headed back to Toledo after winning the Battle In Berea with a convincing 21-10 win over the Pirates.
"We were ready to play," admitted St. Francis DeSales head coach Chris Pavain, whose team raised its record to 7-2.
"We had our formal last weekend, and we had some kids not show up for the Columbus DeSales game," Pavain said. "We were sleep walking throughout he whole thing and we lost 10-1. We came out today knowing we were playing a really good team, a well-coached team with a lot of good players.
"In the last four years, we've had something like eight games go into double overtime against them, so we were ready to play," he added.
The Knights rebounded on Wednesday with an 11-4 win over Sylvania Northview, then made the trek out to Baldwin Wallace University.
It looked like another close encounter was in store as the two teams battle to a 1-1 standoff in the first 4:21 of the game. Junior Terry Burns scored first for St. Francis at the 9:10 mark, then Rocky River's Brock Reimenschneider tied it up at 6:39 off an assist from Jack Gerlack.
But for the next 10:49, the game belonged to the Knights.
Michael Minor started the run with a goal at 6:27 that gave St. Francis the lead for good at 2-1. An early Rocky River timeout at 5:34 did nothing to slow the visitors down, with Best scoring an unassisted goal with 4:19 left in the first quarter.
The Knights would close out the quarter with a 3-0 run. John Toth scored off an assist from Carter Pavain, then Mike Irvine scored an unassisted goal at 2:10 to make it 5-1. The sixth goal came from Best, whole circled around from the back side for an unassisted goal with 30 seconds left.
The onslaught continued in the second quarter. Burns scored his second goal of the game, then Best got his third on a laser shot from 14 yards out with 8:09 left in the quarter. Kyle Bloom put in another unassisted goal, and just like that it was 9-1, St. Francis, with 6:32 remaining in the half.
"It carried over from the other night," admitted Rocky River head coach Ted Dimond, whose team was coming off a 13-9 road loss to North Canton Hoover.
"Where we've been getting beat is one-on-one," he said. "As much as we've stressed taking angles and making contact on guys, tonight we had a hard time slowing anyone down one-on-one.
"Tonight and against Hoover, we'll look at the stats and see that a lot of goals against us were unassisted. That puts our defense and our goalie in a tough position when we can't send a guy one way," he added.
Rocky River finally got its second goal of the game with 4:35 left in the first half when Gerlack took a pass from PJ Sperli and put one in from the right wing. Best answered with his fourth goal about 30 seconds later, but Reimenschneider stuck in a rebound shot at 3:07 to give the Pirates a little momentum heading into the halftime locker room.
The Pirates, however, were never able to get the defensive stops they needed to make a run. Instead, the two teams combined for 11 goals in the third quarter alone, with Best scoring two more goals to help the Knights take a 16-8 lead into the fourth quarter.
"They came out pressing on us," Pavain said. "We have four freshmen that are starting, but they've been playing for about seven or eight years. Plus, we have one of the best players in the state in Noah, and he's hard to cover. He can control a game, and he did.
"When they came out and pressed hard, we just told our guys to go by them. We told them to trust yourself, trust your instincts, trust your left hands, and that's what we did," he said.
The St. Francis lead grew to 18-8 on goals from Max Johnston and Toth, who would score an unassisted goal later in the quarter for his third goal of the game. Reimenschneider scored his hat trick goal with 7:14 left in the game, while Tom Robenalt and Logan Drell hooked up for a breakaway goal at 4:32 to close out the Pirates' scoring for the night.
"Lacrosse is a funny game," Dimond said. "Things snowball quickly, so teams get quicker once they get a couple of goals. It's a momentum thing, and tonight they looked pretty quick. We just never felt like things got on our side to pick up speed for us. That's just the way the game goes.
"We acted like we were the team that drove and hour and a half. From the first whistle, we didn't fight for a ground balls. They came out ready, and we didn't. When we spotted them five or six goals early on, we tried to force the issue and tried to press. We called a timeout early on to try and reinforce staying within ourselves, because at that point it's a long game. Things can happen quickly, either for or against us.
"Tonight, we really couldn't make it happen on our side," he added.
The Pirates fell to 6-4 the next night with a narrow 9-8 loss to Sewickley Academy of Pennsylvania. They will close out their regular season home schedule Tuesday, May 6 when they host Medina. The Bees, 7-3, are coming off a 10-8 win over Hoover.
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