By Jeremy Balan
The best boys lacrosse team in California does its best work in the second half.
In its most important games of the season, St. Ignatius has allowed opponents to hang around for a half before hitting the gas pedal, and that was the case again on Thursday in the first round of the Jerry Langkammerer Invitational hosted by SI.
The Wildcats were tied with visiting Monte Vista of Danville 2-2 midway through the second quarter and only held a 4-2 lead at the half, but outscored the Mustangs 7-1 in the third quarter to cruise to a 13-4 win.
“It’s just the way it’s been happening,” said St. Ignatius head coach Chris Packard. “We are a team that always has a run in us and in the last couple of games, coming out of the locker room here at home, we’ve had productive third quarters.”
Duke-bound senior attackman Chad Cohan and sophomore attackman Joe Lang led the Wildcats (13-0) with five goals apiece and Lang added two assists, but the offense was spurred by a dominating performance from captain Will McKee.
The senior midfielder won a staggering 19-of-22 faceoffs, including 12 in a row in the second half, allowing the Wildcats to control possession throughout.
“It’s a luxury.” Packard said of McKee’s ability on faceoffs. “He’s just exceptional at it and he works at it. You gotta have a guy out there if he gets you possession almost every time he’s out on the field.”
Monte Vista (8-2), ranked by laxpower.com and westsidelax.com as a Top 10 program in the state, struggled to keep up offensively in the second half and appeared to tire on the defensive end.
“I thought we outplayed them in the first half, but in the second half their offense was too good,” Monte Vista coach Mike Lembrecht said. “When you have a good faceoff guy, you can really get on a roll.”
What kept score respectable and kept the Mustangs in the game early was the play of senior goalkeeper Gus Gradinger, who made 17 saves, including multiple from point-blank range.
“He was unbelievable and I thought he was the best player on the field, and I don’t say that very often about an opponent,” Packard said. “We haven’t ran into a hot goalie like that in a while.”
The Mustangs also had early success frustrating the St. Ignatius offense with a tight matchup zone defense.
“It’s the wave of the lacrosse future — the zone defense,” Packard said. “We have a zone offense and we got the looks we wanted, we just weren’t executing. Our style is not conducive to play against the zone because we want to play up-tempo.”
The Wildcats often got in positions to score against the zone early, but big saves from Gradinger, misplayed passes and off-target shots led to missed opportunities. SI cleaned up those mistakes in the second half, however, and the scoreboard reflected it.
“[Gradinger] was the best player on the field today, but he’s just one man,” Lembrecht said. “The credit goes to SI. They are one of the best high school teams I’ve ever seen.”
With the game in hand, the Wildcats did not take their foot off the gas pedal, causing tense moments in the final minutes, but Packard and his players feel that every matchup against the top teams in the state is a chance to prove the program is more than just a West-Coast power.
“It’s not what we set out to do, but there are still a lot of naysayers about St. Ignatius,” Packard said. “We’ve been successful, but we’ve never been considered a top program. Our guys feel that we’re here and that we’ve arrived. They want to come out and execute, be productive and do what they love.”
MV: 2:45 – Rick Emerson, assist David Ehlers
SI: 0:37 – Joe Lang
SI: 7:47 – Chad Cohan, assist JW McGovern
MV: 5:38 – Ben Spencer, assist Travis Turley
SI: 5:25 – Cohan, assist Lang
SI: 4:27 – Matt Emery
SI: 9:14 – Cohan, assist McGovern
SI: 8:11 – David Fleming
SI: 6:03 – Cohan, assist Cullen Vincelette
SI: 5:10 – Lang
SI: 4:19 – Cohan, assist Chad Bell
MV: 2:46 – Sam Lagon, assist Turley
SI: 0:44 – Lang
SI: 0:21 – Philip Alimam, assist Lang
MV: 3:38 – Langon, assist Mikey Garrigan
SI: 3:09 – Lang
SI: 2:40 – Lang, assist Emery