Eight years have passed since the Rocky River boys lacrosse team last took a seat amongst the state's final four.
Following a hard-nosed 8-6 victory over Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit on May 24, it got one step closer.
The Pirates, the No. 1 seed in Division II, Region 5, have enjoyed home field advantage throughout the annual state tournament, and were able to beat the Warriors on their familiar turf for the second time in a month.
“We played a really well-executed game plan,” Pirates coach Bobby Perez said. “I’m really happy with our performance. We executed well offensively. Defensively, we stayed out of the penalty box in the second half, which was big for us. We had some really nice contributions tonight. Everybody’s playing their best lacrosse at the right time of year.”
The only hurdle that remained between the Pirates (15-4) and a spot in a state semifinal was No. 2 Toledo St. Francis de Sales, which knocked off No. 4 Toledo St. John’s, 10-8, in another Region 5 semifinal. The two met in Rocky River on May 27 at 6 p.m.. Results were unavailable at press time.
“It’s exciting,” Pirates senior defenseman Charlie Hudson said of advancing. “We haven’t been here since our freshman year, so it’s super exciting to get to the elite eight, and especially to do it at home.”
These Pirates know they’re a part of something special, a year after they had no season due to COVID-19. They pieced together two different five-game win streaks this year and went 9-0 against Northern Ohio Lacrosse League competition, eventually winning its inaugural championship.
During tournament play they’ve handled their business at home, beating No. 19 Oregon Clay, 17-0, and No. 5 Bay, 9-4, before taking down the No. 3 Warriors (13-4). In the semifinal, senior attacker Hayden Weaver scored four goals, dished an assist and was handed the team’s Player of the Game chain, a piece of jewelry worn proudly after the victory.
Weaver and his teammates on the offensive side of the field were able to successfully navigate the Warriors’ zone defense, which they were far less prepared for when the teams met on April 29, despite eventually winning anyway, 7-5.
Weaver found the back of the net from a variety of angles.
“I felt like I had some pretty good shots today,” Weaver said. “I don’t usually get some of those outside shots against man (defense), so against the zone I was able to let my shot go and it felt pretty good.”
They were outshot by the Warriors on-net, 17-16, but overcame a one-goal deficit in the first half and held the Warriors in check during the second. With the score tied 5-5 in the third quarter, Weaver scored with 4:18 left to give the Pirates the lead for good. After a lengthy possession midway through the fourth that generated several misfires on the Warrior cage, freshman Rowan McDougal scored off a Weaver assist for some much-needed insurance.
Weaver’s fourth goal, a second-chance effort that got by Warriors goalie Nick Jarosewich (6 saves) as he was lunging the other way, put the Pirates up 8-5. Zach Miller scored with 13.9 seconds left to cut the deficit to 8-6..
“It’s been nice to have home field advantage for these games, and to have it in the elite eight is very important, especially with the fans we had here this time,” Weaver said. “We’ve had a lot of fans come out to support us in these playoffs.”
Will Bennett added two goals for the Pirates, Wesley Bennett scored one and goalie Reece Rochester used quick reflexes to make 10 saves. Cooper Kirda and Ryan Holcomb scored two goals apiece for the Warriors.
The Pirates have long established themselves as one of the area’s top programs. Since the Ohio High School Athletic Association first started sanctioning boys and girls state tournaments in 2017, the Pirates have earned the No. 1 seed three times, and advanced to the Region 5 final in 2018. Prior to that, they were a part of the Ohio High School Lacrosse Association, where teams anchored by the current coaching staff were also among the state’s elite.
Perez and assistant coaches Michael Poe, Mason Wilhelmy, Tom Robenalt II and Jack Gerlack are all 2013 Rocky River High School graduates who helped lead the lacrosse team to back-to-back Division II state runner-up finishes in 2012 and ‘13.
Their last memory as high school players was losing a 10-6 heartbreaker to Cincinnati Mariemount in the 2013 state final at Upper Arlington High School in Columbus. For Perez, an All-Ohio attacker on that team, he’d like to see the 2021 roster he’s guiding reach a little higher.
“Our whole coaching staff are alumni of the program,” Perez said. “All we want to see these guys do is achieve what we never could and win the big one. We’ve got a really talented group of kids here that have a really good chance to do the things we never could. I couldn’t be more proud of where we are.”
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