OHIO CITY, Oh - The 2022 season debut and home-opener for the Saint Ignatius Wildcats Lacrosse team took place on Saturday, March 19, at Wasmer Field. After a season that ended in a one-goal loss in the State Final Four to Dublin Jerome, the Wildcats took on the Olentangy Liberty Patriots, who made it to the Sweet 16 of last year’s OHSAA playoffs, where they fell to Dublin Coffman.
This game was also the Patriots’ season opener. This year’s Wildcats returned almost all of their starters, with Drew Wynocker, Luciano Yacavone, Matt Kempton, Braeden Lair, Griffin Taliak, Connor Grace, Chris Aerni and Logan Rechin again in the lineup. In the first game of a schedule comparable, in its tremendous strength, to that of the basketball team this year, the Wildcats looked to start the journey to the program’s first state championship with a win.
Olentangy Liberty started the first quarter in an offensive frenzy, winning the first two faceoffs and scoring immediately off of both, with goals from Aaron Brown and Jack Darrow, the second of the two being on a man-up after a penalty by the Wildcats. The Cats seemed caught off guard, bombarded with offense and overwhelmed by Liberty’s ball control and urgency. The Wildcats were in desperate need of a faceoff win and a chance to set up the offense and collect themselves.
Connor Grace found the ball off of the next faceoff and the Wildcats possessed the ball for the first time in the season. A turnover from each team later, a quick second offensive possession ended with Matt Kempton tearing down the left-side hash and firing bottom right corner to make it 2-1, with the assist going to Griffin Taliak.
Lair won the next faceoff, and both teams traded unsuccessful attacks before Kempton tied the game at two, floating in from the left side, catching a toss from Yacavone behind and stepping into a side-arm, right-hand rocket and finding a nook in the top left corner of the net with 4:25 to play in the first.
Lair took the ball from the ensuing faceoff to the right side, and 14 seconds after the previous goal, Yacavone, in the middle of a 4-on-3 rush, scored to take the first Wildcats lead of the day, 3-2. Lair continued his new winning streak and the Wildcats scored again after a very patient, nearly two-minute possession that finished with a wraparound from X by Yacavone. The Wildcats won the next face and held the ball on the attack for the last 2:21 of the quarter but could not score.
This quarter, the Wildcats showed how faceoffs and time of possession are crucial in this game. They dominated the ball for the last 10 minutes; they went on a 4-0 run. But whether they could contain Liberty having gained possession and set up on offense remained to be seen. So far, Liberty was converting on a high percentage of possessions but had become unable to get them.
The Wildcats won the faceoff to start the second quarter but could not score, and on the resulting Patriot’s possession, Owen Petrucci found a window from 15 yards directly in front of the goal to cut the lead to one off the assist from Gabe Scharlott. Next faceoff, Liberty almost broke into a promising 4-on-3, but the Wildcats’ John Klinge, at long-stick-midfielder, stole the ball away and the Wildcats had a chance to restore the two-goal lead. However, Liberty’s goalie and Logan Rechin exchanged tremendous saves on the next two possessions, keeping the Wildcats scoreless in the quarter and the lead at one. But then, the Wildcats on offense, capping off a long possession with many off-target shots, saw Yacavone find Taliak for the leftie’s first goal of the season, the score now 5-3 with 6:53 left in the second quarter.
Liberty took the ball and attacked aggressively, this time scoring, again with the goal to Petrucci and assist to Scharlott. The next time down the field for the Cats, Mitchell Rini, from a Yacavone dish, fired from the underhand to take the momentum back, 6-4 with 5:27 in the second quarter. It took 27 seconds for the Wildcats to score again and 1:53 for Taliak, catching a cross-field pass from Yacavone, to score his second of two goals in the half for the Wildcats, firing with the left-hand toward the bottom corner. For Liberty, though, on the very next possession, Noah Couch scored unassisted from X on a quick inbound attack, 7-5 4:24 to go.
Taliak next found Yacavone behind the goal for a quick move and a goal for Yacavone’s hat trick and seventh point of the half, tallying four assists and three goals. On the other end, Liberty continued this goal-scoring showcase of five minutes of play from both teams with Couch ripping at the net from the pass by Broc Fitzpatrick, 8-6. After the Patriots won the next faceoff, Rechin came up with a huge save to end the half, 8-6 for the Wildcats. Both teams in the first half were scoring on more than half of their possessions, which would put the pressure for the second half on the earning of controls and protection of the ball. And on top of that, either team that could string several defensive stops together could start to build a lead and win the game. Lair and Devengencie together could make or break this game with their ability at the faceoff to earn possession opportunities.
The defense for the Wildcats, now with sophomore Devin Holder in goal, set the tone with a solid defensive stand on the first possession of the half. This led to Wynocker, on the break, scoring his first goal of the year at 8:34 to go and once Drew smelled blood in the water, he came back two minutes later with another right-side driving and dodging goal this time assisted by Rocco Periandri.
After Drew’s second goal, the Wildcats would go on to only score twice in the last 18:48, but the Patriots, after a short burst, would go on an even worse drought, not scoring at all in the previous 16:44 of play. Holder’s first shot faced came from a beautifully placed pass from Kaden Dorf and goal for Geno Saccoccia. With 5:15 to go, the Wildcats were ahead 10-7. A goal from Petrucci for Liberty made it 10-8 after that. The last 4:44 of the third quarter went scoreless, first with the Patriots going on the man-up, but Holder making a big save to keep the lead at 2 with 2 minutes to go.
After that, the Patriots made a stop and went on a rush with half a minute to go, but Tom Nolan foiled the attack with a swift bottom-hand check, poking the ball free. The Cats and Patriots both then had failed attacks. The Wildcats held the lead after both teams had gone dry in the third.
The fourth quarter was the lowest total scoring of the game, with only two goals scored, both by the Wildcats for the win! Out of the gate, the Cats went on the man-up and got eight shots off in the first 2:30 but did not score. The Patriots turned the ball over, and Matt Kempton scored the biggest goal of the game for the Wildcats, putting the lead at three (and a very comfortable three at that), with 7:44 to play. A minute later, Wynocker almost had his second but slipped in front of the crease. On the next possession, Drew set up for the first time this game where the Wildcats are used to seeing him at X and beat the defender, but Liberty’s goalie made the save. When the Wildcats went man-down on defense after that, Devin Holder iced the game with back-to-back saves before Yacavone assisted Kempton with 31 seconds to go.
The Cats won their season debut and home-opener by a score of 12-8. Yacavone led the way with eight points (3G 5A), Kempton had four goals, Rini (1G,1A), Wynocker (2G), and Taliak (2G) each had two, and Periandri and Lair both had an assist. The Wildcats totaled only seven turnovers as a team through 48 minutes of play, a turnover percentage of 14% on their 50 possessions. The team had 21 groundballs, five caused turnovers, and four penalties. Lair went 9-4 from the faceoff and DeVengencie went 5-6 while also leading the team in groundballs with four.
Back in action on Thursday, March 24th, the Wildcats will take on the Hudson Explorers, who, in an incredible stroke of bad luck for Hudson, the Wildcats have knocked out of the playoffs four times in the past five years, but who upset the Wildcats on Wasmer Field last year, 7-5. This game will be a great game and test of the early-season Wildcats. Tune in on the SIBN at 7:00 p.m.
11:09 0-1 OLHS Goal #23, Assist #22
10:26 0-2 OLHS Goal #22, Assist #9 (Man-up)
7:58 1-2 SIHS Goal #1 Kempton, Assist #8 Taliak
4:25 2-2 SIHS Goal #1 Kempton, Assist #9 Yacavone (Man-up)
4:11 3-2 SIHS Goal #9 Yacavone, Assist #32 Lair
2:21 4-2 SIHS Goal #9 Yacavone, Assist #29 Periandri
9:56 4-3 OLHS Goal #7, Assist #10
6:52 5-3 SIHS Goal #8 Taliak, Assist Yacavoone
6:09 5-4 OLHS Goal #7, Assist #10
5:27 6-4 SIHS Goal #6 Rini, Assist Yacavone
5:00 7-4 SIHS Goal #8 Taliak, Assist Yacavone
4:24 7-5 OLHS Goal #9 unassisted
3:05 8-5 SIHS Goal #9 Yacavone, Assist Taliak
2:25 8-6 OLHS Goal #9, assist #20
8:34 9-6 SIHS Goal #7 Wynocker unassisted
6:48 10-6 10-6 SIHS Goal #7 Wynocker, Assist #29 Periandri
5:15 10-7 OLHS Goal #14, Assist #8
4:44 OLHS Goal #7, Assist #23
7:44 SIHS Goal #1 Kempton, Assist #6 Rini
0:31 SIHS Goal #1 Kempton, Assist #9 Yacavone