OHIO CITY, Oh - The Lacrosse Cats have heated up at the right time, as they are amid a five-game winning streak that has catapulted them back to the OHSAA Regional Final. The playoff run began in the Regional First Round, where the Wildcats defeated Solon 13-3. That advanced them to a rematch with the Jackson Polar Bears in the Regional Quarterfinal; the Wildcats took care of business which got them to the Regional Semifinal to face the Wadsworth Grizzlies.
As the two seed, it was an exciting night for the Wildcats on Tuesday, May 23. The Cats would host Wadsworth, seeking a six consecutive appearance in the Regional Final since lacrosse became recognized as an OHSAA sport in 2017. On the other side of the region, the #1 seeded Hoover Vikings hosted the #3 Hudson Explorers. Home field was up for grabs in the Regional Final.
In the opening minutes of the Regional Semifinal, the Wildcats looked to set the tempo and the defense did just that. Brightin Miller, Tommy Nolan and John Klinge were disrupting the Grizzly offense from finding a rhythm all night.
After a violation from Wadsworth, the Wildcats began to settle in on the offensive zone and it was David Whitley to put the Cats on the board first after an underhand shot snuck past Jared Pasco of Wadsworth with five minutes left to play in the first quarter.
Wadsworth found some momentum with three minutes remaining in the first when Kyle Yurchiak found a cutting Benny Miller that got a shot past Freddy Webster to tie the game at one.
The tie didn't last long as junior Ben Taliak cut to his right to gain space for a jump shot 13 yards out that clipped the back of the net to give the Cats the 2-1 lead and they would not look back.
Wadsworth continued to play standout defense on the Cats in the second quarter, but the Wildcats began to break through. This time, the freshman Michael McManamon ripped a shot past the Grizzly goalie to extend the Wildcats lead to 3-1 with six minutes remaining in the first half.
As time wound down in the second quarter, a tremendous defensive play by Jaxon Dunn put the Wildcats on a break that Mitch Rini led. With Rini's speed, it drew the Grizzly defense in, which left Hunter Moriarity wide open for a goal to make it a 4-1 lead for Saint Ignatius heading to the break.
The third quarter began an avalanche of scoring for the Wildcats within the first five minutes of the second half; the Wildcats would go on a 5-0 scoring run with goals coming from Bryce Allen, Henry Ferguson, Rini and two from Moriarity.
The Cats would take an 11-2 lead into the final quarter of regulation. With 4:25 remaining in the fourth quarter, David Whitley would notch a hat trick after breaking a double team with a swim move. The final score would be 15-5 and the Cats punched their ticket to a sixth consecutive Regional Final appearance.
Hudson would pull off a final-minute comeback against North Canton Hoover on the road to defeat the Vikings 13-11 to advance and set up a Regional Final rematch against the Wildcats.
This will be the third straight season that the Wildcats and Explorers have met in the Regional Final. In 2021, the Cats defeated Hudson on the road, but it was Hudson in 2022 that got redemption, defeating the Cats at Wasmer Field.
Hudson and Saint Ignatius have created quite the rivalry on the lacrosse field; in those past three seasons, the regular season winner would fall in the tournament. Hudson won the regular season contest in 2021, but Saint Ignatius won the Regional Final. In 2022, the Cats defeated the Explorers in the regular season but fell in the Regional Final. This season, the Explorers came away with an 11-9 victory and now the stage is set for this year's Regional Final.
Game time is set for 6 p.m. from Wasmer Field and the SIBN will have live video coverage. The winner of this contest will move on to the Final Four and play the winner of Dublin Jerome/Olentangy Liberty on Wednesday, May 31 at 6 p.m. from Ashland University in the OHSAA State Semifinal.