It could’ve been a story about Patriot's furious comeback in the final two minutes to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Battlefield ruined that plot line by finally scoring after almost nine minutes of overtime as Bobcat junior attackman Ronan Cleary ended a tight-as-nails Class 6 boys lacrosse semifinal Tuesday with a top-shelf score.
“Obviously this is our fifth game with them, so I know his tendencies. I just got inside the crease and went underneath,” Cleary said. “I didn’t even know it went in until I heard someone yell.”
The 10-9 victory gives a state-title shot and neighborhood bragging rights to the Bobcats (18-3), who won three of five meetings against their rivals from Patriot (15-5) this year, including the district tournament title.
“This is probably the best feeling I’ve ever had in my lacrosse life,” Cleary stated. “It’s always a back-and-forth rivalry, but it’s good to get back at them.”
The teams split a pair of regular-season meetings, and the Pioneers defeated the Bobcats for the regional crown. In their five matchups, Patriot holds a slight 39-37 scoring edge on Battlefield.
Bobcats win on golden goal
The Pioneers never led in the game, as Battlefield’s Austin Nevins and Cleary put in the first goals.
Patriot tied it on tallies by Zach Walsh and Sam Fernandez, but the Bobcats ran off three straight by Evan Glaze, Braydon Colliver, and Nevins, who beat the buzzer with his goal.
Fernandez opened the second quarter with a score, answered by Battlefield’s Owen George and Brady Bullock. Patriot’s Brendan Wilkinson and Battlefield’s Brodie Carroll bounced in goals, putting the halftime score at 8-4 in the Bobcats’ favor.
Both goaltenders, Patriot’s Tristan Lenard and Battlefield’s John Fisher, came up with timely saves to swing momentum.
With face-off specialist Abe Al-Khalili consistently winning draws, Battlefield melted the third-quarter clock with possession. Patriot broke through with goals by Drew Fernandez and Walsh.
The fourth quarter was nearly nine minutes old when George scored to put the Bobcats up 9-6, and the Battlefield faithful roared their approval.
But a minute later, the Pioneers came back. Tyler Schmelzer scored with two minutes left. Sam Fernandez tallied 37 seconds after that. Vince Smith tied things up with 45 seconds to go, giving the Patriot side a chance to sound off.
The teams stilted through two uneventful four-minute overtime periods before Cleary applied the finishing touch.
'Job’s not done'
Battlefield head coach David Suthers credited the returns of Al-Khalili and senior captain defenseman Noah Elazar for winning possessions.
“This was their first game back, and they did an awesome job,” said Suthers, who also praised the defensive play of Jett Morrow and Mason Cage.
The Bobcats expect to have their full complement available for the Class 6 championship game Saturday at John Champe High School in Aldie.
“We’ll just keep our composure and keep grinding, no matter what the score,” Cleary said.
After Battlefield beat Patriot 9-6 back on April 4, Elazar calmed the team down with the reminder that their task isn’t complete. Ever since, it’s been the Bobcats’ mantra.
“Job’s not done!” the Bobcat players shouted in unison as they concluded their post-game meeting.
The emotions were as high as the stakes for the rivalry showdown.
“That was intense. Patriot gave it everything they had. Amazing effort by them,” Suthers said.
“Whenever you get an emotion win,” he paused for breath, “it feels amazing.”
Patriot coach Dan Puhlick said he was going to miss this group of Pioneers “as lacrosse players and as young men.”
“For us to battle back down four at halftime shows a lot of character, heart, desire, determination,” Puhlick said. “The kids left it on the field. Hats off to Battlefield for putting it in, but our kids battled.”