Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
Despite losing six of its last seven regular season games, the Rocky River boys lacrosse team has regrouped and finds itself back in a familiar position:
In the Elite 8.
The Pirates jumped out to a 3-0 lead, then hit visiting Kenston with a 5-0 second quarter. They held on late in the second half to defeat the Bombers, 10-6, in the second round of the OHSLA Division II Playoffs Wednesday night at Rocky River Stadium.
With wins over Kenston and Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin, Rocky River advances to the Elite 8 for the fifth straight season. The Pirates will take on Chagrin Falls, a 15-4 winner over Hawken, on Saturday for the right to play in the state semifinals.
"We definitely switched up a lot of things," admitted senior defender Jimmy Brown, who played some tight D on Kenston's top scorer, Ryan Cass. The Kenston captain, who came into the game with 55 goals, was held scoreless until the fourth quarter.
"We knew something wasn't clicking with the old approach, so we changed up everything," Brown said. "We even changed our pregame, our warmup song, everything. We wanted a clean slate going into the playoffs.
"We knew this was our last chance, do or die. This, and in our last game, we've really stepped it up. We've really started to focus. Our attack and defense have been clicking together, our transition, everything," he added.
The Pirates were clicking from the opening face-off, with senior Tom Robenalt scoring an unassisted goal at the 10:33 mark of the first quarter. Just over a minute later, senior Jack Gerlack took a pass from junior PJ Sperli and zipped one past Kenston goalie Luke Ostoyic for 2-0 River lead.
"I think any time you can not only get the first goal, but the first possession off the face-off is huge," said River head coach Ted Dimond, whose team outshot the Bombers 11-6 in the first quarter.
"I think it's either the first save or the first possession, even more than the first goal," he said. "Kenston is a well-coached team, and they have a bunch of threats outside and inside. It was a track meet for a while."
The Pirates kept running, getting an unassisted goal from senior middie Alex Theiling for a 3-0 lead with 7:55 left in the quarter. But Kenston regrouped after a timeout, scoring two goals to make it 3-2 heading into the second 12 minutes.
Then came the run that gave River some breathing room.
After junior Nick Rodgers stole the ball, senior Brock Reimenschneider took a pass from Robenalt on a fast break to make it 4-2 at the 8:18 mark. The score went to 5-2 when Gerlack took the ball, rolled to the middle from the left wing and scored at 6:04.
Then senior middie Evan Jacob got going. He scored his first of three goals on the night at 3:13, scooping up a Reimenschneider shot that hit the post and depositing it into the back of the net for a man up goal and 6-2 Pirate lead. He scored another man up goal with 52 seconds left off a pass from Gerlack, then Reimenscneider scored again, this time thanks to a Theiling pass, to make it 8-2 at the half.
"I'll take a 5-0 second quarter," Dimond said. "Runs can happen. We went on a run in the second quarter, and they got their run in the second half. Luckily we had enough distance between us.
"I'm sure if we had five more minutes in that game, Kenston could have tightened it up," he added.
The Bombers, however, had an even deeper hole to dig out of as the third quarter got underway. Jacob scored his third goal off a Reimenschneider pass at 10:11, then senior attacker Logan Drell scored via the Justin Aldinger assist four minutes later to give the home team a commanding 10-2 lead.
That would be the final Pirate goal, however, as Kenston's offense started to make a move of its own.
Kyle Apshago scored at 6:05, then Anthony Pavone put one in with 1:40 left int he quarter to gut the deficit to six. In the fourth quarter, Cass finally broke free with a pair of goals at 9:44 and 5:28. But the Pirate defense and goalie Joey Artiste, who had 14 saves on the night, were able to close out the win.
Jacob felt his team, which outshot the Bombers 36-27, was playing some of its best lacrosse of the season.
"I think the losses helped us in the long run," Jacob said of his team's .500 regular season.
"We know that we don't want to feel that way in the playoffs, because one loss and it's over," he said. "In the playoffs, it's a new mentality. It's do or die, so we stepped our game up. We've got to keep going.
"Tonight I didn't do much dodging because it wasn't there. But my teammates fed me the ball well, especially in man up. I think I had two goals there. It was important for us, and we practice that a lot. And our defense has been playing really well. I think we've been helping them in practice by doing a lot of six-on-six," he said.
Dimond also felt the regular season losses paid dividends as his Pirates hit the playoff trail.
"We've been preaching it all along, and our coaches and players have bought into it," Dimond said. "It's about the journey. As long as we've learned from the losses, we'll take them.
"It's all about making it all count in the end. We were .500 this year. Is that OK with us? No, but what we've taken from those losses is a little more than after a win. After wins, sometimes we leave our sticks in our lockers. After a loss, we put in extra time on the wall, extra time watching film.
"We bring that stick home with us, so there's that extra edge we've had this year that many we haven't had in years past," he added.
The Pirates will look to keep that edge Saturday when they take on Chagrin Falls, a gleam that knocked them off in a tough 6-5 decision on May 14. The rematch will take place at high noon at Revere High School.
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