The Cardinal Gibbons boys’ lacrosse team was always in Athens Drive’s way.
After surviving for a 6-5 win Tuesday night, the Crusaders advanced to the N.C. High School Athletic Association state championship game against Lake Norman Friday night.
“(Playing against Athens Drive) this time was much harder than the first two,” said Cardinal Gibbons’ Ben Huger, a senior midfielder. “Playing them three times this year was insane because they are such a good team.”
In the regular season, Cardinal Gibbons beat Athens Drive 8-6 and 14-3.
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The Crusaders (20-0) didn’t separate themselves from the Jaguars until early in the fourth quarter. Gannon Morrison, a sophomore attacker, scored the Crusaders’ two goals in final quarter.
“I just had to step up at the end,” said Morrison, who finished with three goals. “I know I’m under the radar compared to our seniors.”
Morrison’s statement appeared to be true.
During the third quarter, the Crusaders decided to pass the ball on the perimeter instead of attempting to a take a direct path to the net. Huger was one of the Crusaders who played away from net in hopes of finding Morrison cutting toward the net.
Coach Mike Curatolo was impressed with Morrison’s ability to score under pressure.
“He’s a very talented player,” Curatolo said. “He worked really hard in the offseason to get better.”
Cardinal Gibbons executed their new offensive strategy twice, which turned out to be just enough to win.
Huger and Morrison connected for the Crusaders’ final goal.
“They were playing awesome defense, so we had to something different,” said Huger, who finished with two goals and the game-winning assist. “I think we were just a little more patient with the ball.”
Athens Drive coach James Cornicelli said his Jaguars responded well throughout the game, even when Cardinal Gibbons took the momentum.
“The Crusaders have so many weapons,” Cornicelli said. “We tried to adjust on the fly, but our defense played exceptional because that’s a great team.”
Pete Shammas kept Athens Drive (14-3) at bay. Shammas, a senior goalkeeper, kept Cardinal Gibbons in the game. In the first half, Shammas recorded 11 of his game-high 15 saves.