Entering the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 1A/2A/3A boys’ lacrosse championship game, Cardinal Gibbons had already established itself as a great team.
Throughout the season, Gibbons (22-0) had beaten several top tier teams from across the country, but with Saturday’s 11-8 victory over Marvin Ridge (18-2), the Crusaders made it clear that they are the best in their home state while completing a perfect season.
“I am very excited for these guys. They’ve done a lot this year. They’ve endured a lot in 2012 with that heartbreaker and losing to Apex last year. They earned this. They earned all of it,” first year Gibbons head coach Alex Buckley said.
The state championship is Gibbons’ second in the program’s history, and the first for the Crusaders since the NCHSAA began sanctioning lacrosse in 2010.
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While Gibbons had cruised through its first three playoff games with ease, the Crusaders expected a tough contest with Marvin Ridge and that’s exactly what they got.
After going ahead 1-0 just over a minute into the game, Gibbons wouldn’t regain the lead until early in the third quarter.
The two teams found themselves even at halftime, 4-4, but each team had two very different strategies in the first half.
Marvin Ridge was very selective with its shot selection, but efficient, scoring four goals on eight shots.
Attacker Jared Blum led the Mavericks with three goals while attacker Shane Hanlon and midfielder Jack Rich each had a pair of scores.
Meanwhile, Gibbons fired off 19 shots in the first half alone, and despite having some success, the Crusaders were denied frequently by Marvin Ridge goalie Reilly McDermott.
McDermott, who finished the game with 19 saves, was so tough in goal that he was named the MVP of the game despite Marvin Ridge coming up short, and Buckley believes that he deserved it.
“He was the best player on the field. He deserved it. Luckily we had the better team today,” Buckley said.
After Marvin Ridge scored just 38 seconds into the third quarter to lead 5-4, Gibbons took over, outscoring the Mavericks 7-3 from that point on.
Buckley said that he was not pleased with his team’s effort in the first half, but the group improved its focus and drive down the stretch.
“The only thing I said at halftime is that I don’t really see guys that think they’re playing in a championship game effort-wise. But yeah, the ground balls we started to beat them on, and I think we just started playing smarter on offense,” Buckley said.
Attacker Gannon Morrison led the Crusaders with three goals, while midfielder Robbie Lavelle, attacker Nick Forbes and attacker Charles Van Dyke added two goals apiece.
Gibbons built up a three-goal second-half lead, but Marvin Ridge gained some momentum going into the fourth quarter as Hanlon scored with 1 second remaining in the third, cutting the deficit to two.
The Crusaders responded right away and Lavelle’s second score of the game wit 6 six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter gave Gibbons some insurance at 10-6.
McDermott said Gibbons’ offensive attack is one of the best he’s ever played against.
“They’re a real good offensive team. They had a lot of weapons up top and behind. It was tough to take all of them. I thought we handled them well, but just came up short,” McDermott said.
For Morrison, being able to be a member of the first team in Gibbons boys’ lacrosse history to go undefeated while ending his high school career with a state championship was special.
“It means a lot. No Cardinal Gibbons team has ever gone undefeated, and it’s a real big honor,” Morrison said.