Saint lax reaches final four

Published 10:57 pm Tuesday, May 12, 2009

On Monday, Nansemond-Suffolk Academy boys lacrosse coach Ian Patrick sent an e-mail to his players’ parents, advising them of the starting time for Tuesday’s Division II state quarterfinal game against visiting Norfolk Collegiate. Patrick added a plea asking the adults’ help in not allowing their sons to overlook the Oaks, Tidewater Conference foes they’d beaten 14-3 during the regular season.

“It will be very important for us to come out strong and dictate the game at BOTH ends of the field,” Patrick’s missive concluded. But apparently, the warning wasn’t fully heeded.

Instead of the expected NSA dominance from the start, it was Norfolk Collegiate that opened the scoring and later took a one-goal lead. The Oaks also struck two minutes into the second quarter, pulling into a 5-5 tie.

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“Come on, Saints! Wake up! You’ve got a game on your hands!” bellowed one parent.

As if jarred from slumber, NSA responded with eight consecutive goals in less than six minutes. The hosts were up 16-5 at halftime and Saints reserves flooded the field by the end of the third quarter. The final score was 22-6, but Patrick knows his team can’t afford such a lapse Thursday when it travels roughly four hours upstate to play second-seeded Highland.

“Our first quarter is going to be critical on Thursday,” Patrick said. “We were a little flat to start out with today and we can’t afford for it to happen again against a really strong opponent.”

NSA (13-5) may be seeded third in the division, but the Saints will be clear underdogs in that game. Not only will they have to shake off the effects of lengthy travel, but they’ll be coming off serious faceoff struggles against Norfolk Collegiate and will remain without standout defender Josh Todd. The big junior’s recovery from groin surgery won’t let him face Highland but might be complete in time for Saturday’s division title game if his team can reach it.

Throw in the fact Highland had a chance to scout NSA earlier this season but the Saints will take the field without Patrick having ever seen the Hawks, and his team faces long odds after a long bus ride. Nonetheless, NSA’s bench boss relishes the challenge.

“Where I coached before (in Massachusetts), we weren’t allowed to scout or watch video of other teams, so this is nothing new to me,” said Patrick, who will return to the Northeast after the current school year. “I love that you have to figure things out on the fly, that you have to adapt and win that chess match.”

Tuesday, a major part of the Saints’ ability to adapt was on faceoffs, where Norfolk Collegiate won 15 of 20 in the opening two quarters. While Patrick and assistant J.P. Henry managed substitutions and field play, junior varsity coach Trent Blythe focused on unlocking the mystery of the Oaks’ domination on draws. Huddling with faceoff men Rich Brummett and Nick Leverone, Blythe was able to suggest changes that helped NSA in the second half.

Another key to Thursday’s outcome will be how well the Saints execute their set offense. Tuesday, they blew the game open with their trademark fast-break attack, which led to repeated and successful shots from close range. Patrick said he’s heard Highland doesn’t let its opponents run, however, and NSA is likely to have to win the game in half-field situations and without being able to use its athleticism as often in transition.

“Whatever we face, I have confidence in our guys,” Patrick said. “They’ve stepped up over and over again this season and I’m really looking forward to this game.”

NSA’s leading scorer Tuesday was Will Crenshaw, who had five goals. Teammates Sam Rapaport and Carter Pearson each had four tallies and Tucker Hotte added two.