Sunday, June 11, 2017

Grafton Wins Third Straight Boys Lax Sectional Title

By Connor Evans (@RonnocEvans)

DUDLEY, Mass - The Nipmuc Warriors faced off against the Grafton Indians in the Division 3 Central/West final at Shepherd Hill Regional High on a fine evening in June. Nipmuc had a lot to prove and started out hot. At the end of the day however, Grafton was able to overpower the Warriors and hand them a 14-5 defeat.

The Breakdown

The Warriors did exactly what Head Coach Eric Brocket said they would need to do to start against Grafton— come out flying. That they did. They stunned the Grafton fans into silence by hurling a two-goal punch-in-the-face, early in the first quarter. 
As a matter of fact, despite ending the first quarter in a 3-3 tie, Nipmuc really seemed to be in control of the game. They were winning on 50-50 balls. Stealing possessions on defense, and getting more offensive looks than the Indians.

The second quarter however was a different story. Grafton really settled into their game plan late in the first quarter. It spilled over nicely into the second. An even battle would finally tip in Grafton’s favor when halfway through the second, freshman Matt Gilliat would step into the lane and fire a cannon of a shot past Nipmuc goaltender Alex Chu. Shortly after, teammate Steve Rotatori wrapped around the cage and flicked the truck stick, plowing through a defender and sniping top corner. Meanwhile, Grafton’s poles, Danny Bartosiwicz, Jack Fontana, Brian Rechia, and LSMs Alec Cosseboom and Ben Berube would lock down the potentially lethal Nipmuc offense. Matt “Froggy” Nicalek had an absolute hero save as a Nipmuc attackman found himself wide open on the crease and met a brick wall in the form of the junior goaltender. To end the half, All-American Anthony D’Angelo hurled in a bomb to set the Indians lead to 3.

Enter the third quarter (where statistically Grafton has been most dominant all year) and the game began to become lopsided. Two quick goals (Rotatori, Brendan Coates) got them rolling and a high heater from freshman Jack Gurney gave them a third. Michael Manning of Nipmuc would step up and stop the bleeding, finding the first goal for the Warriors since the first quarter. It would be the final score of the third though, as we entered the fourth 9-4.

Grafton would put it on ice, allowing one goal by Nipmuc’s Pat Donelan while having Rotatori put in two more, Gurney and Coates with one apiece, and Johnny Malloy tallying in on the scoreboard. 
Final: 14-5

Takeaway for Nipmuc

I’d like to give a huge shout-out to the Warriors. What a year they’ve had. The progress they’ve made in the last several seasons was so evident today. That’s a testament to Coach Brocket and his staff, as well as the youth feeder program. I for one, would love to continue to see them in the hunt for district title games.

This group was classy, hard-working, and as their chants suggested— family. In the few weeks I covered them they were a pleasure to watch and I look forward to seeing their success continue. 
Tonight’s game was certainly a disappointment for such a great run, but now all these returning players know what it’s like to sip from the cup and have it taken away. Coming from experience, losing the big game is the ultimate motivation. It would not at all surprise me to see them with a similar opportunity before them next year.
Great season Nipmuc!

Takeaway for Grafton

The D3 Central/West juggernaut has not yet achieved their goal. As easy as it is to admire what they accomplished today as a fan or reporter, if you’re a member of the white and green, you would feel disappointment with anything less. After the game, Brendan Coates said “this is just another game on the schedule.” As demoralizing as this may seem to any other D3 C/W team that may have been in their way, stop and think: these guys have made it to two straight state championships, clawing their way in, only to be annihilated by D3 king-of-the-hill Dover-Sherborn. For these guys, anything less
than a win over the bully that’s knocked them down twice in the big dance is secondary.

After the game I caught up with senior captain Jack Fontana and Anthony D’Angelo. “This feels great. Getting a (District Championship) 3-peat done against a very talented Nipmuc team with all my friends feels great,” said Fontana.

On the tight start, he added: “They came out flying right out of the gate and kind of stunned us with a two goal lead. We called a timeout, took a deep breath, and realized we just had to play. Their goal is to beat us. Our goal is to get back to the State Championship. We had to put that back into perspective.”

On the superb defensive play Fontana continued: “We knew Nipmuc was really powerful on offense. We came in deciding to early slide on (All-American) Ryan Richards and try to tire him out. The whole offense worked around him. When he wasn’t in, we all just went to work. We didn’t stop.”
D’Angelo said: “We really needed to play stellar defense. We needed to possess the ball, run the offense the way coach told us to, and get the ball in the back of the net… We played as hard as we could. Both sides of the ball.”

Fontana on a chance to play DS again: “Dover Sherborn is an unbelievable team. We know them from the past State Championships. We are just going to do what we always do. Practice hard. Go out and play our game.”

D’Angelo on DS: “We really need to play good defense and execute at the faceoff x. If we can do that, I feel we have a good chance.”

As for me? I can’t wait to see how the vaunted Grafton defense handles the high powered offense Dover-Sherborn brings next game. Can’t. Wait. (Looking at you, Senior Poles)

Coach Alan Rotatori had great things to say about his team after the win. “I feel great. We’ve been playing really good lacrosse lately. We feel strongly that we are putting our personnel in positions to be successful.” He specifically mentioned Ryan Warner, a player who saw few minutes over the course of the season. Today, he was faced with the tall order of shutting off Nipmuc All-American Midfielder, Ryan Richards. “Look what (Warner) did today! It was amazing!”

“Our kids back each other up and push each other to a higher level of play. And they’re not afraid of failure. That helps.”

On the prospect of facing Dover-Sherborn next game, Coach Rotatori replied: “I’ve watched the videos of the last few years of us in the State Championship against Dover-Sherborn— especially in the first quarter… I look at it and go ‘why did it end up that score?’ I really feel like we can hang with them… I believe in my kids and they believe in each other. We are going to have to shut off some pretty spectacular lacrosse players, but today was a good step. We can make some game day adjustments and change the way we play according to who we’re playing.”

Side Note: Coach Rotatori was highly complementary of the shooting of Jack Gurney and the impeccable play of goaltender Matt Nicalek (who declined an interview— fine pending.)

So there you have it. A team who is happy but far from satisfied. A State Semi-final game against Dover-Sherborn is all that stands between Grafton and their third consecutive State Championship appearance. Let’s see if the most decorated senior class in Grafton history (3 District Championship Victories, 2 State Championship Appearances) finally has what it takes to carry the Indians through to the very end.

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