Sunset boys lacrosse beats Jesuit in 6A semifinals
Jesuit has its All-Americans, the well-decorated roster, the prestige, the winning pedigree.
But the Crusaders didn't have Sunset senior Jacob Leonard and his innate scoring ability. Jesuit couldn't match the leadership of Andrew Meyer and Nick Wiley or the cagey instincts of senior goalie Travis Hemstreet.
And because of those leading luminaries, Jesuit won't win a state championship.
That opportunity belongs to the prideful Apollos. Down two starting midfielders while enduring a late fourth quarter 15-minute delay due to a power outage, Sunset pulled through with a meld of mettle, moxie and consummate, timely playmaking to upset the No. 2 Crusaders 10-9 in the Oregon High School Lacrosse Association semifinals on May 31 at West Linn High School.
"We battled the whole game," Hemstreet said. "Guys who are committed (to play lacrosse) to college or just play high school (lacrosse) played really well against (Jesuit) guys that are going to Division One schools and live for lacrosse. Everybody stepped up in big times. No game is won by just one player."
"We went in with a mindset of we work harder than them, we play harder than them, so we just have to go out and beat them," Leonard said. "Through the ups and downs of the game, we kept that mindset and got it done. This is probably the closest team I've ever been on, so when we put all that trust in each other, it translates onto the field."
"That was the best effort we've had all season," Wiley added. "All around the field — our midfielders, our attack men, our defense just all had so much energy. We were playing for each other tonight.
No. 3 Sunset will play No. 4 Oregon Episcopal School in the OHLA championship game at WLHS at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday.
"We have to come in confident, but respecting them because they do have weapons and they are very good," Leonard said. "We just have to play our game, stick to what we know, stick to what we're good at and hopefully things work out."
To be clear, this wasn't a David versus Goliath sort of supposed mismatch. The Apollos sported nearly as many first-team all-Metro picks (six) as Jesuit (seven) and split the pair of head-to-head bouts during the regular season. The talent gap between the two wasn't vast in the least. Sunset's aptness was nearly square to that of Jesuit's, sans superstar Tucker Dordevic who's a well-versed first-team All-American going to Syracuse this fall. Jesuit junior Sam Handley was a handful who's verbally committed to Penn. Yet, Sunset seemed to relish the role of the disregarded undercard, hoping to supposedly just stay within striking distance of Jesuit. And with 18 seniors on the squad and the sting of losing in the 2015 semifinals to eventual champion Lakeridge still fresh on their minds, Wiley and Meyer said coming up a round shy of the state title prizefight "wouldn't happen again". Meyer scored Sunset's first goal of the game while Apollo freshmen Calder Gallagher and Callum Craig each bagged a score of their own to help Sunset grab a 5-4 halftime lead.
"We wanted to show what Sunset is about and how good we are," Meyer said. "Nothing beats beating Jesuit."
While Dordevic played up to his celebrated status, scoring four goals and doling out an assist, he couldn't go at it alone. Too many times Jesuit stood around and watched while the future Orangeman tried desperately to get to the net. Meanwhile, Sunset's pack line defense surrounded Dordevic and swathed him with constant attention, knowing the other Crusaders weren't getting as involved in the offensive flow. Sunset freshman Ajax Zappitello was Dordevic's primary defender and the youngster did an admirable job making the superstar earn every goal and every run inside. And with senior defenders Kyle Duitsman and Bradley Thurber flanking their freshman, it created a tough shell in front of Hemstreet that proved just impenetrable enough to prevent Jesuit from ever going on a big run.
"Our defense knew they were up for a challenge," Leonard said. "We were facing a Syracuse commit (Dordevic) and a Penn commit (Handley) and our defense knew they were gonna have their hands full. There was an intensity in practice that I hadn't seen before and that was great. They worked hard, made plays and got it done. Travis played outstanding as well."
"Jesuit has some ballers," Meyer added. "But this was the best defensive game we've played all season. At the end of the day I felt like we just wanted it more."
Hemstreet was awesome in-between the posts, trading spectacular save after spectacular save with Jesuit goalie Beckley Groh. With Handley and Dordevic nuking shots at the cage, the Apollo keeper kept his eyes and stick active and aware of the all-state stars.
"I just wanted to make the next save," Hemstreet said. "If the ball went it, play would go on. I just had to play and keep making the saves."
Leonard played quite possibly the best game of his career on the biggest stage, bagging four goals including two critical fourth quarter scores that helped open up a 9-6 lead. The elusive senior attack, who was a star running back and special teams ace for Sunset last fall, played the role of artful dodger, shifting gears seamlessly, stiff-arming oncoming defenders, dancing in and out of check attempts and taking what the Crusader defense gave him. Three of Leonard's goals came in the all-important second half.
"I took advantage of the fact that (Jesuit) really couldn't guard me," Leonard said. "I feel like if you work hard at something and put in work, you can back that up. I know I'm working harder than the person across from me, so I just have a mindset of 'I don't care who you are, you can't guard me like that.' Usually a team will help to me earlier and when that happens I look to feed (the ball). I consider myself a feed-first attack man, but when they didn't help toward me, I knew I could run by them, get to my spots and hit it."
The trilogy between Metro League titans didn't go without drama, however. Dordevic hurt his knee midway through the fourth quarter and couldn't put any weight on the appendage as he hobbled off the field for the final time as a Crusader. Jesuit senior Peter Burpee scored to bring the Crusaders within 9-7.
But, Sunset senior Tillman Gallagher made a brilliant two-way, breaking up a potential runaway Crusader attempt by slapping the ball away from Jesuit's defense and then backtracked behind the goal and wrapped home the hugely important insurance goal to go up 10-7.
"I consider (Gallagher) one of our best players and in the big moments, the best players make plays," Leonard said of Gallagher. "He was making plays all game and he had huge one there, definitely."
Armed with a three-goal lead and just two-and-a-half minutes to go in the fourth quarter, Sunset seemed comfortable and set up to reach the state championship game for the first time in four years. Yet, at 10 p.m. the automatic lights illuminating the WLHS football field went out, stopping play for 15 minutes. When action resumed, Handley and Luke Hockman scored quickly to come within 10-9 with 43 seconds left in the fourth.
Jesuit pressed, hacked and chopped away and forced an Apollo turnover with 11 seconds left. Handley Jesuit bullied through a handful of swipe attempts and got off a great look, but it seared over the cage with 0.7 seconds left. And with essentially no time to trigger a shot, Jesuit's comeback fell shy.
"It got pretty crazy at the end, but we just had to dig deep," Hemstreet. "All season we've had to dig deep in these close games we've had. We just kept playing and non-stop battling until the clock hit zero."