Senior John Daido hung back on defense and watched his Oakton teammates pass the ball around, maintaining possession in the final minutes of Wednesday’s Virginia 6A North region final.
A weather-delayed game that began 25 hours ago was coming to a close, and when the horn sounded, Daido ran to Ryan Harris, Douglas Preaskorn and goalie Aidan Ricci — three integral pieces of Oakton’s shutdown defensive unit — and hugged them as tight as he could. With a 9-7 victory over Patriot, the Cougars captured their first boys’ lacrosse region title since 2005.
“The season’s not over,” Daido said. “But this is one step toward the big prize.”
For the Cougars (16-4), the victory was another highlight in a turnaround season after their 6-9 campaign in 2016. After struggling in close games last year, they have thrived in high-pressure situations this spring. Oakton entered the region tournament as the fourth seed but relied on steady defense and timely scoring to win three road games.
The Cougars beat South Lakes, 7-6, in the first round; West Springfield, 10-8, in the quarterfinals; and South County, 13-11, in last week’s semifinal.
In the region final, they knocked off previously undefeated Patriot (19-1) in a two-day game that began Tuesday night in Nokesville.
The teams went back and forth in the first half Tuesday. Oakton junior Jake Eagen bounced a shot into the net with six seconds remaining in the half, then pounded the turf as he hit the ground, celebrating the goal that gave the Cougars a 6-5 halftime lead.
Then, at about 8:15 p.m., lightning struck. About an hour later, as rain poured down and the sky roared, the game was called, and the Cougars loaded the bus and rode 25 miles east to Vienna, with another half still to play.
When the game restarted Wednesday, Oakton picked up where it left off. Senior Sean Stack struck first in the third quarter, and the Cougars held a 7-6 lead heading into the final period.
Junior Jake Cole scored a team-high three goals, and sophomore Kevin McDaid led the team with four assists and scored the game-clinching goal in the fourth quarter.
Patriot can rebound from its first loss of the spring in Friday’s state quarterfinal matchup against W.T Woodson. The Pioneers beat the Cavaliers, 12-11, in last week’s region semifinals.
“I’m sure they’re going to give us our best. We’ll have to match their intensity,” Patriot Coach Dan Puhlick said.
The Cougars, meanwhile, earned a first-round bye in the state tournament. After taking pictures and celebrating the championship, they loaded the bus and traveled from Nokesville back to Vienna for the second time in 24 hours.
They blasted music — “Wonderwall” by Oasis and some Bob Marley — and everything felt right, senior Matt Prosser said.
“It just felt like a team, a community effort that we won,” Prosser said. “We just wanted our shot to be there. It wasn’t pretty. We were the fourth seed. We knew that as soon as you get in the tournament, everything can happen.”