High School Sports

Middle Creek falls just short of a repeat title against Lake Norman in NCHSAA 4A championship game

Benjamin Lever, second from left, of Middle Creek celebrates along his teammates after scoring a goal for the Mustangs. The Middle Creek Mustangs played the Lake Norman Wildcats in a boys lacrosse game that counted for the NCHSAA 4A championship at the WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C. on May 19, 2018.
Benjamin Lever, second from left, of Middle Creek celebrates along his teammates after scoring a goal for the Mustangs. The Middle Creek Mustangs played the Lake Norman Wildcats in a boys lacrosse game that counted for the NCHSAA 4A championship at the WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C. on May 19, 2018. newsobserver.com

Middle Creek’s dominating and unbeaten two-year run came up one triumph shy of back-to-back 22-0 seasons with state titles.

Lake Norman dethroned the Mustangs 13-11 to win the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A boys lacrosse final Saturday afternoon at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park.

The loss snapped a 43-game winning streak, but the Mustangs (21-1) shook hands without pouting or making excuses. They also went to the stands to thank their fans as they do after a victory, matching the reputation of school pride that Middle Creek’s student body has established for turning out passionately to support classmates.

“They can walk away knowing they gave it and that’s how I know OK,” Middle Creek coach Nick Holota said. “It hurts when you give it your all and lose, but when they look back they’ll know they gave it their all. Someone wins and someone loses. I’m proud of the effort they gave.”

Middle Creek senior J.J. Tolentino led the Mustangs with four goals. Senior Jimmy Slaight added three and senior Owen Caputo, the state’s all-time leading scorer, finished with two. Sophomore Benjamin Lever and junior Jake Caputo added a goal apiece.

For Lake Norman (22-2), the 2018 state title avenged a 17-8 loss to Middle Creek in the 2017 state final at the same venue.

The two matches were eerily alike. In both, the winning team dominated the faceoffs. A year ago Middle Creek enjoyed a 19-of-25 advantage as Graham Schwartz was named the MVP despite not scoring a goal.

This season, Lake Norman sophomore Drew Elder was the MVP after also winning, oddly enough, 19-of-25 faceoffs. But he added three goals and 17 groundballs.

Elder was a newcomer to the Lake Norman-Middle Creek rivalry, having last season attended IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. But he was made aware of the faceoffs differential in 2017.

“Possessions are key,” Elder said. “You just have to be quicker and get away with the ball.”

Elder was quick right from the start, not only winning the opening faceoff but possessing the ball and scoring within five seconds. Lake Norman led 1-0 lead with 11:55 remaining in the first period and then 2-0 before the Mustangs stampeded back with four unanswered goals.

Lake Norman had double-teamed Owen Caputo, but that opened the field for teammates. First, Tolentino scored two straight goals with assists both times from Jake Captuo. Next, Benjamin Lever and Jake Caputo added back-to-back unassisted goals.

Lake Norman was suddenly down 4-2, but the Wildcats wouldn’t go away. With three seconds left in the first period, Matthew Elder scored to make it 4-3. Then Lake Norman opened the second-period scoring to tie the match 4-4.

Middle Creek pulled ahead 10-9 early in the fourth period and still led until Lake Norman tied the match 10-10 with 3:38 remaining. It was the first of four unanswered goals – one with the goalie pulled – in the final moments. Elder made it 12-10 when he converted a turnover into an unassisted goal before the goalie was pulled.

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