It’s hard to miss Gonzaga’s Richie Petitbon on the lacrosse field, towering in white and purple with the number 1 on his back. Looming near the crease, shedding or carrying defenders with him, he anchors the middle of the No. 2 Eagles’ offense.
Tuesday afternoon, with rain beating down in the third quarter of a WCAC showdown between Gonzaga and DeMatha, Petitbon scored the Eagles’ first goal, a tie-breaking goal in the third, and a much-needed insurance goal late. The Alabama-bound lineman who spends his springs in the center of the Eagles’ attack was the difference-maker in Gonzaga’s 8-7 win at home that clinched the WCAC regular season title.
“Everyone’s always talking about us, saying it’s not going to be our year, they’re not going to do it this time,” Petitbon said. “Coach [Casey] O’Neill just tells us to show it with our play, we’re not going to say anything, and I thought that was a really good staple win heading into the playoffs.”
Gonzaga (14-5, 7-0 WCAC) hasn’t lost to a WCAC foe since 2009, though with 20 seniors gone, this was supposed to be the year that streak ended. Many felt senior-laden DeMatha, the last WCAC team to beat the Eagles, had the best shot to do it.
But while the Stags repeatedly came back at the Eagles, tying the game in the third quarter, then responding to both of Gonzaga’s fourth-quarter goals to stay within one, they had no answer for Petitbon.
With the game tied at 5 in the third and the Stags (14-3, 6-1) rallying, Petitbon tried to collect a ground ball in front of the DeMatha crease as five defenders swarmed around him. In the midst of the scrum, Petitbon fell in the pile yet still somehow came away with the ball. As he sat on the turf, Petitbon muscled an all-upper body shot that found the back of the net to slow DeMatha’s charge.
“It was just a wet, rainy game and someone actually hit me right in the facemask,” Petitbon said. “I just picked it up and put it in.”
A few minutes later, with his team clinging to a one-goal lead in the fourth quarter, Petitbon buried a feed from senior Mark Anstead to up the Eagles’ lead to two — a goal that proved crucial when DeMatha scored next to cut the margin in half.
The Stags then nearly tied the game with one second remaining, calling timeout to set up a wall in front of the goal through which Brady Thompson shot and found the back of the net — though time had run out before the ball crossed the goal line and Gonzaga survived.
“We’ve really grown as a team, and the last couple games we’ve been going on a streak, coming out and playing really well,” said Anstead, who scored two quick goals out of halftime to help build a three-goal Gonzaga lead, its biggest of the game.
“We’ve got to get this momentum going into the postseason, and we’re hoping to see them again in the championship.”