Perhaps winning 15 of 17 faceoffs would have been enough for the Howard boys’ lacrosse team in any other game. With their 12 goals-a-game offense and perfect record, it had been plenty for the Lions, game after game, all the way to Tuesday’s 4A/3A state championship game.
But South River’s defense was special all season and stunning at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County on Tuesday night. The Seahawks haunted Howard, checking and pushing and harassing all over the field, looming in the minds of the Lions’ offense to inspire the kind of jittery turnovers Howard hadn’t made so far in its perfect season. The Seahawks made sure faceoffs didn’t yield goals on their way to a 9-6 win and their second state title in the past four seasons.
“I’m a little biased,”South River Coach Paul Noone said. “But I think our defense is the best in the state.”
Bias gained backing Tuesday, as the Seahawks (17-2) held Howard (18-1) to three first-half goals and shut the Lions out in the third quarter. A late rally ballooned the Lions’ goal total, but with well-timed checks and relentless man-to-man pressure from the crease to the other side of the field, South River made sure John Travisano’s faceoff dominance went for naught.
“It’s that thing at either end of the field, that’s what it boils down to,” Noone said. “. . . If they want to win the faceoff, fine. We’ll play six-on-six defense.”
Craig Chick, Riley Ford, Michael Ward, Billy O’Hara, Charles Palandati and a corps of other Seahawks upperclassmen provided the six-on-six chokehold, forcing quick possessions from Howard and even quicker shots, putting on a defensive show that left the Lions unbalanced and battling for every opportunity.
“It’s chemistry,” Chick said of the key to the Seahawks’ defense. “We play hard, fast, and physical because we know if we get beat or miss a check, we have people to have our backs.”
Howard did its part to hold down South River, too, and the teams played through a furious and well-defended 18-minute stretch in which neither side could find the net. But Howard’s defense couldn’t hold back South River through the fourth quarter, and the Seahawks’ defense never let up.
“They were just checking everybody all the time. They’re fast, they’re athletic, and they took advantage of that athleticism today,” Howard Coach Jimmy Creighton said.
The Seahawks checked, pressured and harassed their way to 17 wins, allowed more than 10 goals only once, shut down in-county competition with ease and frustrated some of the best offenses the rest of Maryland had to offer on its way to their fourth straight Maryland straight title game. Last year, South River beat Howard before falling in the championship game to Westminster, meaning the Seahawks are the only team to beat the Lions in more than a year.
“Starting the year off, we had almost everyone back on defense that played last year,” senior defender Billy O’Hara said. “We communicated well, we all worked well together.”