Cardinal Gibbons took care of business on a misty night in front of a substantial crowd, outlasting Apex 15-5 Friday night in a fourth-round N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A playoff game that doubled as of the top boys lacrosse rivalries in the state.
The Cougars started the first half strong with the opening goal from long-pole midfielder Nick Baffoni to get things rolling and then ended the second quarter with all the momentum – but it wasn’t enough to down a more experienced Gibbons team.
Preston Lalicker ended the first half with three unanswered goals to cut the deficit to 7-5, giving the Cougars a lifeline, but a 5-0 third quarter run by the Crusaders effectively put the game to bed.
“Preston Lalicker was the best player on the field. He was unstoppable,” Cardinal Gibbons coach Alex Buckley said. “We said ‘Hey, we had a game plan for him, it’s not working, lets try and deny him the ball and make someone else beat us’ and our defense woke up and played strong, on-ball defense. We didn’t have a single flag in the second half.”
One way to keep a player from scoring is to keep the ball on the other side of the field, and that’s what faceoff man Trevor Kirsch was able to do, dominating the ‘X’ all night long.
“When (Kirsch) gets rolling, everyone feeds off it,” Buckley said. “If he’s doing well, we do well. When he isn’t doing well, we get a little tight. He’s been really good in some really big spots this year.”
Zach Niemi (four), Jack Biestek (two), William Domville (two), Adam Barry, Charles Van Dyke (three), Jack Zarnik (two) and Anthony Digirolamo kept the scoring spread wide for the Crusaders.
“It’s great to have an alpha but I don’t really think that we do and we don’t try and force it,” Buckley said. “It’s six guys that play really well together, really eight guys that we run out there, but our starting six feed off each other and they’re in the right spots at the right time.”
Gibbons travels to Middle Creek on Tuesday in a match-up of a traditional legacy versus an emerging power.
Apex returns the majority of its main contributors next year with the exception of the likes of goalie Patrick Sasser, who’ll be replaced by up and coming keeper Zach Vigue.
Eleven of the players on this year’s roster were underclassmen, making it the “youngest team we’ve ever had” per Apex coach John Hayden. Having the chance to make playoff runs like the one this year and compete against top opponents is an extremely valuable experience for the players in Hayden’s eyes.
“Every playoff win, every practice it’s like these kids are getting a master’s degree in being in tough situations and learning to play lacrosse,” Hayden said. “It bodes well for the future. I didn’t know what to expect this year … and boy, it went great. They just keep getting better, they’re a fun group.”