|Groton-Dunstable midfielder Liam McDonough (12) celebrates one of his five goals.|
On a cold, damp morning in Tyngsboro, it was visiting Groton-Dunstable that came out hot, jumping on the host Tigers and running away with a 10-3 win Saturday.
It was a complete team effort from the Crusaders (7-0), as junior middie Liam McDonough dominated the face-off X, and threw home five goals, while junior goalie Nevin Tardif stopped 10 shots behind a stellar defensive performance led by senior Nate Forbes.
Here are a few takeaways from today's game.
McDonough Ready for Prime Time
Though he wasn't known state-wide, lacrosse observers in Central Mass knew all about McDonough, a physical middie who can takeover games both at the X and around the cage. McDonough's five goals came both off his ability to win the draw, and his skill to catch passes in traffic and finish off nice feeds from Michael Tammaro, Jack O'Neill and Mitchell Townsend.
Yes, the Crusaders were moving the ball well, but McDonough has the look of a special finisher around the net, and has the speed and strength to create his own shot from up top as well.
"He's a pretty special player," Groton-Dunstable coach Rick Arena said. "In the past, he's been able to win us possession, but now you're seeing that he can just score every which way. When you have him scoring, Nevin (Tardif) robbing shots and Nate (Forbes) playing great D, it makes my job easy."
Crusader Defense Ahead of Schedule
Speaking of Tardif and Forbes, those two headlined a suffocating defensive effort by Groton-Dunstable. Yet, while the junior goalie looked remarkably comfortable making kick and body saves between the pipes, he almost didn't play for the Crusaders this season. An attackman last year, Tardif informed Arena just before practices began that he had changed his mind and would come out for the team. That change of heart, along with Forbes' move from LSM to D, has pushed the G-D defense from question mark to strength.
"I can't really say anything bad about Nevin," McDonough said with a laugh. "He's stopping everything right now, and our defense is playing really well. It's just incredible."
"I think coming into the year, even coach (Arena) thought our defense would be our weakness," Forbes added. "We've only got one returning guy from last year's defense, but we're working really hard and improving quickly."
Focusing on Laforge
The clear focus of Groton-Dunstable's game plan, in all phases, was star Tygsboro middie Kyle Laforge. An All-American in 2015, Laforge was again one of the region's best players last year, but the Crusaders did everything in their power to make sure someone other than the senior beat them.
"My head was geared to the face-off X today," McDonough said of his battle on the draw against Laforge. "I knew that would be big, so since last night I was thinking about going to the face-off X against him."
Though G-D controlled possession for most of the game, when the Tigers did get the ball, the Crusaders knew exactly who to find. Coach Arena put Forbes, his most athletic and competitive defender, on Laforge, and made sure to give him plenty of help when the shifty midfielder got into the open field.
"I've known (Laforge) for a while, we've played against him, and I know he (goes mostly to the) left," Forbes said. "So, my philosophy was take away his left, and if he beats me right, then that's just him… Defensively, with our sliders, we were really just trying to stop Laforge. If some of their other guys were able to get the ball and beat us, that's a good win for them, but we weren't going to lose by Laforge today."
While Laforge did generate the majority of Tyngsboro's chances, and scored the Tigers' only goal of the first half, it was a frustrating day for the star. G-D threw everything it had at him, basically daring anybody else on the Tigers to beat them. The gamble paid off, as few other Tigers generated chances and, when they did, Tardif was there to turn them away.
Tyngsboro Finding its Footing
As tough a loss as it was for Tyngsboro, Tiger coach Kyle Brady thinks his team can take a lot out of playing Groton-Dunstable.
"They're a tough team, and they're so balanced," Brady said. "We've had a great rivalry with (Groton-Dunstable) in a ton of sports… We've had a couple wars with them in lacrosse, but it's a tough for us. We're a young team, we're a new team. You know, we have five or six seniors who have been around for years, but a ton of new players around them. It was a good test, and thankfully it's early in the season."
One of the young players Brady will look to as the year goes on is sophomore attackman Jimmy Albert. While offense was hard to come by for the Tigers, Albert was one of the few players other than Laforge to generate multiple opportunities, and did score just before the third period ended, making a sharp cut without the ball, then catching a nice feed from Matt Butler and throwing it home.
Tyngsboro's roster is littered with talented, but inexperienced players. The Tigers have the look of a team that may struggle with consistency, simply due to their youth, but could be a much more dangerous team come tournament time when things start to fall into place.
The Crusaders couldn't have asked for a better start to their season. Aside from a mild-scare against scrappy North Middlesex to start this week, G-D has dominated the early portion of its schedule. But, of course, things get no easier, as the Crusaders get back into Mid-Wach A play next week with a Tuesday game at reigning league co-champ Algonquin, then a Thursday home game against Shrewsbury.
But, the highlight of next week might be the Crusaders' Saturday trip to Littleton. If both teams continue to roll, that could be a battle of Division 3 Central/East unbeatens, and two programs that have a lot of respect for each other. It will also be a battle of two defensive units that are miles ahead of where most people thought they would be at this point in the season.
Tyngsboro, meanwhile, will get a chance to bounce back at home Monday against Lowell Catholic, before traveling to Marlboro for a critical Mid-Wach B clash. The Tigers will then finish out their week against struggling, but always dangerous Westboro.
Given that Tyngsboro is breaking in so many new pieces on attack and in the midfield around Laforge, it was probably a lot to ask for them to take out a really good Groton-Dunstable team. But, as those players learn their new roles, Tyngsboro is only going to get more and more dangerous offensively, and senior goalie Dan Powers, who made eight saves today, will always make enough stops to keep the Tigers in games.
Yes, today was a setback, but Tyngsboro is far from done. We'll see how the Tigers respond next week.