Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
For the better part of three quarters, the Westlake boys lacrosse team had held visiting St. Francis de Sales in check. The Demons had built a 3-1 halftime lead and took a 4-2 lead into the final 12 minutes of play.
But in the game's final minutes, the Westlake offense sputtered and the Knights took advantage.
Junior midfielder Terry Burns scored a pair of goals in the fourth quarter to tie the game and send it into overtime. Then with just under a minute left in the first OT period, freshman Carter Pavain hit the game winner as St. Francis de Sales came away with the 5-4 win at Read Field.
It was just the fourth loss of the season for Westlake, which came into the game with a record of 10-3. The Knights upped their record to 9-3 after claiming their third overtime win of the season.
"Today I think we learned what it's like to play against a team that expects to be there at the end of the tournament," said Westlake's first-year head coach Brian Stepanek.
"I don't know that at the beginning of the year we expected to be there at the end, but now we do," Stepanek said. "We didn't surprise them today. I think everybody knows who we are now. We're not surprising anybody like we may have been at the beginning of the year.
"I think it shows our guys what it's like to play against a team that sees you coming, and a team that comes to play," he added.
It was evident from the start that Stepanek's Demons came to play, despite having already played three games during the week.
St. Francis de Sales struck first, with sophomore Kyle Bloom scoring an unassisted goal just 2:08 into the game. But Westlake responded as the quarter's final seconds ticks away when attacker Jake Bechtel took a pass from midfielder Adam Sandor and scored a man-up goal.
The Bechtel-from-Sandor connection went on to strike two more times in the second quarter. The senior duo hooked up on a breakaway opportunity with 6:21 left in the half, then teamed up for another man-up goal at the 4:25 mark to give the home team a 3-1 lead.
Meanwhile, Westlake's zone defense and the work of senior goalie Paul Freedman continued to keep the Knights off the board.
"They went into a zone, and normally we're doing a lot of movement, a lot of people moving," said Knights head coach Chris Pavain. "Today when they went into that zone, we decided we were going to stand around and watch them.
"When you give a good goalie like that open looks, he's going to make the saves. That's what happened the first three quarters of the game. But then we started hitting the guy in the crease who was wide open. He got some goals on that, and that was the difference," he added.
St. Francis de Sales did just that to begin the second half as Burns scored his first of three second-half goals at 8:17 to cut the Demons' lead to 3-2. Westlake's offense, on the other hand, had suffered a blow late in the second half when Sandor went down with an ankle injury.
The Demons managed to maintain the lead in the third quarter and pushed it back out to two when junior Nathan Greenberg zipped the ball past Knights goalie Nick Wagner from 18 yards out. But that would be the final goal of the game for Westlake as the Knights continued to win the possession battle.
In the fourth quarter, that ball control paid off as Burns scored at 9:33 and 8:29 to tie the score. St. Francis de Sales had a golden opportunity to take the lead with a man-up situation at 8:17, but the Demon defense held.
Westlake had opportunities to score in the final two minutes, the last coming off a Knights turnover on the back line with 21 seconds left in regulation. But the Demons couldn't capitalize, and Pavain ended it in overtime on his shot from the left wing from10 yards out.
Stepanek admitted Sandor's absence was a factor, but said he didn't want to use it as an excuse for the loss.
"I don't know that there's another player in the state who has as much of an impact on a game than Adam Sandor," Stepanek said. "So when he goes down, that's a four or five goal swing right there.
"But that's no excuse. We didn't execute offensively in either half. Actually, I thought both halves were kind of the same. We executed exactly the way we wanted to in transition and exactly how we wanted to defensively. I don't think they solved our zone defense because all their goals were on broken plays or when we broke down.
"That was the kind of game we were hoping to play. We gave our offense the chances to win at then end and we didn't execute. That's the story of the tape," he said.
On the Knights' sideline, Coach Pavain felt his team stepped things up in the second half.
"When we actually take our time with the ball and move around, we're a good offensive team. When we stand around, we're not," Pavain said.
"We're mostly underclassmen with a couple of seniors. It's a learning experience, and they have to know they have to be ready for every game," Pavain said. "They can't sit around and think it's going to just happen.
"We were more patient and looking to the crease more. We were in a 23, which is a 2-3-1, at the beginning of the game. Then we went to a 14 with two guys in the crease, which makes a big difference in occupying space and getting people open.
"And defensively, our goalie played really well in the second half. If we stay out of the penalty box, our six-on-six defense is really good. It's when we go a man down where teams have scored 18 out of 24 times in the last four games. We've got to fix that this coming week in practice," he added.
Stepanek, whose team played its first overtime game of the season, said his team's lack of ball possession was a factor.
"When you lose a guy like Sandor, that means you're losing maybe the best face-off guy in Ohio," he said.
"So you've got to possess the ball, because they're playing make it, take it essentially. We didn't do that. They did a nice job. They probably possessed the ball 80 percent of the time. But I also think any time you have opposing coaches checking on an injured player at halftime, you get an idea of how important he is."
Stepanek also felt Freedman played a strong game.
"Freedman was incredible," he said. "He's been a little hot and cold lately, so it's been good seeing him come on so strong as we approach the playoffs. This is the time of the year where he needs to click, and he seems to be doing that."
Westlake will play at Hawken Tuesday before returning to Read Field Friday night for the final regular season game against rival Rocky River. St. Francis de Sales will close out its regular season with a home game against Perrysburg Tuesday nigh, a road game at Anthony Wayne on Wednesday and the home finale Friday night against Toledo St. John's.
(You can follow us on Twitter @BeAFanatic. Feel free to like us on Facebook too: BeAFanatic.com.)