Whenever you lose in the state championship, a fire burns in your heart for a long time, well into the offseason.
The fire flowed into the first quarter in Columbus on Friday. The Wildcats burst out to a 5-1 lead and never looked back, capturing a great 12-9 victory over the St. Xavier Bombers at Fortress Obetz.
The victory marked the Wildcats' first win over the Bombers in program history.
"Those guys got us three times last year. We talked about that – turning the page and getting better. It's a new team," said assistant coach Brian Holzheimer ‘05. "We have our goal set on a state championship. It was good to get a team win, play a good half, be transition technicians, dominate ground balls, dominate the faceoff guy, 15-7, who got us good in the state title game last year even with Anthony Ameo, our all-time record holder."
The win advances the Wildcats' record to 10-3, providing a fresh burst of momentum heading into the home stretch of the regular season.
"This is a huge in-state win," Nate Conry said after the game. "We lost to them last year a few times, so this is a big win for us. It got a little tight at the end, but I think that's good for us because we haven't had many tight games."
Even after a long bus ride to Fortress Obetz, the Wildcats looked fresh and loose during warmups. Cool and confident, the Lax Cats roared out of the starting gate. Connor Cmiel opened the scoring just 2:14 into the game, firing home a pass from Michael Boehm. Less than 30 seconds later, Jack Moriarity took it to the hole for his first of many goals. The lead stretched to three on a beauty by Boehm, assisted by a nice pass from Nate Conry.
St. Xavier broke the shutout at 4:01 on a Trevor Gilmore goal. The Wildcats responded with a tally a few minutes later. Merick Hartley unleashed his trademark low-to-high rocket, assisted by Boehm, to fire the lead forward. With 36 seconds left, Mort placed an exclamation point on the first quarter. The senior played tic-tac-toe with Charlie Kinzel, as pinpoint passing opened up an easy goal in front.
St. Xavier did outshoot Saint Ignatius in the first quarter, 9-8, but the Wildcats absolutely dominated the ground ball battle, 13-4. The Wildcats limited the Bombers' possessions and showcased great chemistry on offense.
The Wildcats kept rolling to start the second. Just six seconds in, the Lax Cats galloped down the field. Conry found Boehm for a stunner. St. Xavier scored a minute later, but Hartley combined with Cmiel on a tally at 9:01 on a marvel. The lead stretched further thanks to Mort's cheddar. Gilmore then scored a few minutes later, inadvertently initiating a quiet goalless streak.
The silence was broken at 1:16 on a Boehm-Mort crossover. The two skilled attackers combined for a great goal to set the lead at 9-3. A stunning score against one of the best teams in the state.
"We've been talking about getting them mentally, spiritually, physically, and emotionally engaged and continuing to grow and develop as young men," Holzheimer said. "We still have to work on some fundamentals and get better, but it was great to break through."
The third quarter proved to be a slog. The Wildcats drew five penalty calls, slowing down the game and allowing St. Xavier to dominate possession.
Boehm started the scoring off a Mort pass, but the men of Cincinnati owned the third. The Bombers took advantage of the inopportune Saint Ignatius penalties. St. Xavier found the back of the net four times in the third quarter.
However, Conry scored a vital goal at 6:05 of the third to stem the tide and prevent the Bombers from taking full control. The Wildcats still owned a solid 11-7 lead entering the fourth.
"I got the ground ball off the faceoff. Their whole defense was pressing out, so I had the shortie. I knew I was faster than him, so I got underneath them, and there was no one in the middle of the field, so I put it high," Conry said.
Each team had its chances in the fourth, but the Bombers had momentum and much of the possession, outshooting the Wildcats, 11-3. A comeback seemed in the making with 3:54 left in the contest. Luke Vrsansky ripped home a shot to narrow the gap to 11-8. Not long after, Conry slammed the door shut.
Cmiel drew a slide with a nice move in the offensive zone. The junior middie found an open Conry towards the middle. The senior promptly tore the lid off the cookie jar, going top shelf for an absolutely crucial goal.
"I was on the crease, Cmiel did a nice job of drawing of the slide off the crease," Tron said. "I knew the two sides were coming in, so I just fired the thing high when I got it."
St. Xavier scored late, but Conry's goal deflated the Bombers, taking away all the team's momentum. In the end, the Wildcats walked away with an immensely important 12-9 win over the Bombers.
The Bombers did outshoot the Wildcats, 36-25, but two other stats tell the story of this game. The first – ground balls. The men of Ohio City owned an incredible 37-23 margin in ground balls, led by John Coughlin with 7 and Jack Welcsh with 4.
"John 'Cougar' Coughlin, ground ball vacuum-aholic, break-dancing shredding technician, a goofy grizzly bear animal really stepped up. But yeah, our guys played really well," Holzheimer said. "They've been starting to see the ball better. We've been making that a focus point of effort in practice, working on ground balls, picking them up cleanly, and being able to make a pass. It's good to see these guys playing better by scooping it up on the first try and moving it upfield. We still have some work to do, but we're heading in the right direction."
The other critical stat – faceoffs.
Joey Morford played incredibly well at X. The junior defeated his counterpart from the Bombers, 15-7, in faceoffs.
"Joey Morford had a huge game in the faceoffs," Coach Holzheimer said. "He's really coming into his own, getting his confidence going, playing better. He's coming off of the Wilderness Retreat playing like a wild animal."
Moving forward, the Wildcats have some time off. The Lax Cats will return to the pitch on Saturday, hosting Dublin Jerome at 4 pm. The game marks the team's first home game on Wasmer Field this season.
When the Wildcats return to the field, they will be working on a few things to prepare for the rapidly approaching postseason.
"We're still getting our defense to play smart and clean, avoiding silly mental mistakes and penalties. We focus a lot on the little things," Holzheimer said. "That's been a point of emphasis, watching film and continuing to critique and analyzing previous games to get better. These guys are getting better with the X's and O's, the spacing, the body positioning, the slides, which is important. They're playing more as a team. They're moving the ball better up and down the field, packing it in and forcing the outside shots. These guys played aggressively defensively.
"They moved the ball pretty well, especially in the first half," Holzheimer continued. "Huge shoutouts to the guys on the fast breaks, especially Coughlin and Cmiel, in terms of moving the ball well. The coaches made some adjustments, which seemed to benefit the guys, in terms of getting the ball into some of our key players' hands. We were able to get 3-4 very nicely executed fast breaks, and prevent them from scoring on all but one fast break."
Varsity Blue and JV sweep Avon Lake
As the Varsity Cats battled St. Xavier, the Varsity Blue and JV Cats faced Avon Lake. Both teams emerged with a victory.
The JV Cats opened things up with a 9-5 triumph over the Shoremen.
The Varsity Blue contest proved to be more adventurous. The injury bug hit the team hard. By game's end, only three long poles were healthy, as five defensive players were out with injuries. Sophomore Alec LaSpina played every position except for goalie to hold the team together like glue.
The Varsity Blue Cats dominated the third, but the tide began to turn in the fourth. That's when goalie Logan Rechin came to the fore. The freshman turned away several shots in the final stanza, notching an incredible 21 saves over the course of the game.
With two freshmen starting at defense, three at midfield, and three at attack, the Wildcats managed to hold off Avon Lake's top team, 9-8.
The 5-4-1 Varsity Blue Cats return to action on Wednesday against Bay after Saturday's game vs. St. Ignatius (IL) was canceled. The 4-6 JV Cats also play next at Bay on Wednesday.