Thursday, June 9, 2016

Grafton and St. John's Prepare for District Title Games

Grafton senior attackman Hunter Fraser (left) and St. John's senior middie Liam Doherty (right)
By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

We've now made it all the way to the district finals across Massachusetts lacrosse, and now only two Central Mass teams are left standing.

In Division 2 Central/West, it's St. John's (Shrewsbury), a team coming off an upset of No. 1 seed Minnechaug, and the Pioneers will be looking to avenge another regular season defeat in the district championship game. In D3 Central/West, it's Grafton looking to win back-to-back district crowns, and the Indians will have to do so in a rematch of last year's final.

Times are still to be determined, but thanks to a Western Mass team holding the higher seed in both matchups, each game will take place at Western Springfield High School on Saturday.

Here's a quick look at both games.

Division 2 Central/West

St. John's vs Longmeadow: Saturday at 5:30 pm

St. John's (15-6) has done just about everything right since the tournament began, blowing out talented Worcester and Algonquin squads, and upsetting top-seeded Minnechaug on the road earlier this week. In the two games I've seen them play during the playoffs (and a late regular season game against Grafton), I've come away very impressed with the Pioneers' defense, and effort on ground balls.

Possession was key for St. John's against both Algonquin and Minnechaug, as they kept the ball off the sticks of dangerous Tomahawk and Falcon attackmen, and produced over 25 shots of their own in each game.

But, as good as Minnechaug was, Longmeadow (17-5) may be an even larger challenge. Thickening the plot is the fact that Longmeadow has seemingly had the Pioneers' number the past five years, defeating St. John's seven consecutive times in that span. Earlier this season, Longmeadow overcame a 10-4 deficit and two lengthy lightning delays to edge St. John's 12-11, and last year in the tournament, the Lancers topped St. John's on an overtime buzzer-beater by Will Lukas.

Much like the Minnechaug game, expect those past defeats to motivate this St. John's team, as each player I spoke with earlier this week seemed excited by the prospect of seeing the Lancers again.

Players to Watch

St. John's: Jack Donahue, So. A/Liam Doherty, Sr. M/Matt Mongeau, Jr. G
Longmeadow: Will Lukas, Sr. A/ Max Stukalin, Sr. M/Patrick Abad, Jr. D

The Lancers have a number of players that can put the ball in the net, as evidenced by Kevin Hussey's six goals against Westboro Tuesday. That said, in the biggest games, teams tend to lean on their best players, and seniors Will Lukas and Max Stukalin are those guys for Longmeadow.

Lukas is a speedy athlete with excellent stick skills, who has given the Pioneers fits in the past, while Stukalin is one of the most complete players in the state. An exceptional face-off taker, passer, finisher and defender, Stukalin does a little bit of everything, and since he returned to the lineup after taking a class trip, the Lancers have been a completely different team.

Not convinced?

With Stukalin out of the lineup, Longmeadow fell to Minnechaug 11-9 in mid-April, but when the senior played in the rematch a month later, Longmeadow cruised to a 15-10 victory.

Finally, pole Pat Abad is, perhaps, Longmeadow's most athletic defender, and that could mean a long day of him chasing Jack Donahue around. Donahue has been on a tear in these playoffs, and a macthup between these two should be must-see TV.

Liam Doherty has stepped his game up at the X, splitting face-off duties for the Pioneers, and cleaning up every ground ball in his vicinity. If he can hold his own against Stukalin in both areas, it will go a long way toward St. John's getting some payback. Don't count the senior out, he's been on a mission in the tournament.

Finally, the St. John's poles and LSMs will no doubt have their hands full with a balanced Longmeadow offense, but the final line of defense is goalie Matt Mongeau, and he is playing out of his mind these past few weeks. Big games against Grafton, Algonquin and Minnechaug have to place Mongeau among the state's best goalie, and he's certainly one of the hottest heading into this matchup.

These two teams played what Longmeadow coach Keith Campbell called "the best game he's ever been a part of" earlier this year, and I'd expect another classic Friday.

Division 3 Central/West

Grafton vs Mt. Greylock: Saturday at 3:30 pm

Grafton (17-5) defeated Mt. Greylock (18-1) 12-8 in this game last year, and with the Mounties losing MIAA all-time leading scorer Michael McCormack from that team, you might think this will be a walk in the park for the Indians.

Think again.

Mt. Greylock has reloaded its attack, and once again boasts one of the best offenses in the state. The Mounties also feature a stud senior goalie in Cal Filson, and a host of talented complimentary pieces.

Also, as we saw in its comeback victory against St. Bernard's Tuesday, Mt. Greylock has guts and the temperament to win close games, something we weren't sure about after a regular-season full of lopsided victories.

Grafton, meanwhile, hasn't been challenged in these playoffs, blowing out Blackstone Valley Tech and Nipmuc by a combined score of 34-4. The defense has been smothering for the Indians, and possession has been fleeting for their opponents. Much like last year, when it made a run to the state championship game, Grafton has the look of a team playing its best lacrosse at the exact right time.

Players to Watch

Grafton: Hunter Fraser, Sr. A/Matt O'Brien, Sr. M/Tom Nicalek, Jr. D
Mt. Greylock: Patrick Storie, Jr. A/Reilly Parker, Jr. A/Cal Filson, Sr. G

Storie and Parker have picked up the offensive slack after the graduation of Michael McCormack, scoring over 100 points each, and powering Western MA's most prolific offense. The Indians will counter these two with a number of poles and LSMs, but and Tom Nicalek has been moving around a bit lately, so look for him to cover multiple guys and play in different spots for Grafton Friday.

In the midfield, Grafton will look to possess and keep the ball away from the Mounties. That's where O'Brien and fellow face-off guy Anthony D'Angelo come in. O'Brien is solid at the X, but also a demon on ground balls, and an excellent defender. He's a high-motor kid that does all the dirty work you need to slow down a high-powered offense, and he's come into his own as a passer on the offensive end.

Finally, the Indians will need to finish, and Fraser is the team's best outside shooter. If the Indians are able to penetrate, it could be classmates Chase Kapuscienski and Cole Fontana having big days, but it seems like the Mounties will try to pack it in and force outside shots against their senior goalie.

If that's the case, look for Fraser's low, ripping shot to be the difference.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Your out of your mind. You were not only smothered but you were truly out played. Except for your goalie!! This is this year!!! Who was missing toughie!

Anonymous said...

Hope grafton doesn't rely on that low shot that's all cal Filson stops he's the best and the low side of the can go high to low cal Filson will be destroyed its his most obvious error stepping low first and if greylock stays in zone it'll be a loooong game for them grafton will roll but not many years left to their dynasty I think

Anonymous said...

My. greylock is half the team they were last year, once again not playing an real competition during the regular season. Being from Northbridge I have seen this Grafton team play multiple times his year and can say they have even more talent than last year, it just comes to whether or not they can play their best lacrosse, if they do they actually have a realistic shot and winning the State championship. This game is an easy win for Grafton, too much experience and great fundamentals they win by at least 5

Anonymous said...

Gotta play the game first