LINCOLN — To be blunt, Lincoln High head coach Mike Ethier didn’t approve of his squad’s overall desire during the opening half of its R.I. Division III Tournament quarterfinal tilt against Cranston West on windy Thursday afternoon.
The Lions had held a 3-2 advantage at the break, but Ethier and his assistants let loose on the contingent, explaining they wanted to see more spirit and fundamentally-sound lacrosse over the final 24 minutes.
“I told the kids the intensity had to be better,” he stated. “It’s all about effort and passion. When we play with intensity, we play extremely well. If we don’t, we’re very flat. I asked them all to pick it up a notch, or several, in the second half.”
Lincoln, the tourney’s third seed, did all that and more. Senior attacker Kyle Ratte scored two of his four goals in the span of 12:53 in the last two periods and his defense played with grit as the hosts captured a 5-2 triumph over the sixth-ranked Falcons at Tiberii Field.
With the triumph, the Lions not only improved to 10-3 overall, but also earned a semifinal berth against either No. 2 Coventry or No. 7 Westerly. Ethier is still unsure whether the contest will be held Wednesday or Thursday, but he knows it will travel to Coventry with a Knotty Oakers’ win or host the Bulldogs if they manage an upset.
“It’s all still to be determined,” he said.
Lincoln managed only three goals on 11 total man-up opportunities, though its defenders yielded only one on eight for Cranston West.
“It’s a little lower ratio than what we’d like it to be, but their defense was very good,” he admitted. “They had a really good strategy defensively, and their goalie (sophomore Mike Pierce) was a brick wall out there.
“They had great matchups against our big guys, they played tight on our shooters and relied on the goalie to make the saves behind them.”
Senior midfielder Chris McCarthy gave the Lions a 1-0 cushion just 34 seconds after Falcons’ junior attacker James Hammond received a 60-second penalty for slashing. With 4:36 remaining in the first quarter, he took a pass from senior Ryan Krohto and ripped it through a screen from a tough left-side angle.
Only 77 seconds later, Cranston West sophomore Jared Tirocchi bounced his shot past senior keeper Zack Heon to tie it.
Penalties riddled the Lions in the second stanza, as officials whistled them for two in the first 2:36. With 10:09 left, McCarthy drew a cross-checking flag, and – 45 ticks after – junior Derek Fiske took another for a slash.
A mere seven seconds after that latter call, at 2:43, senior quad-captain Albert Renzi converted junior Larry Cusack’s feed to give West a 2-1 lead.
Lincoln survived three more man-down infractions over the next three-plus minutes, and eventually knotted it when Ratte shoveled a bouncer past Pierce, courtesy of junior Mike Enos’ assist, with 3:34 remaining before halftime.
That occurred 37 ticks after Jake Moretti had been called for slashing.
And, with 1:58 left, junior Spencer Rao delivered a stellar feed to Ratte, who fired a low screamer by Pierce. Incredibly, that proved to be the game-winning tally.
It had appeared the Falcons would knot it once more when sophomore attacker Trent Colford rifled a liner at Heon, but it caromed off the crossbar with 38 seconds remaining.
Heon actually mustered 11 saves over the initial 24 minutes, though Ethier – as he has done all season – went with senior tri-captain Jerzy Polak in net for the second half.
After Ethier’s soliloquy at intermission, Lincoln went out and dominated the last two quarters.
West took six penalty flags in that span, and – in the interim – the Lions put all sorts of pressure on Pierce. Still, they didn’t convert one until the 7:02 mark of the third; that’s when Ratte delivered a seven-yard rip from the left side. That came after a superb feed from Krohto.
They almost made it 5-2 after senior tri-captain Drew Wood unleashed a right-side shot at the netting only 1:40 into the fourth, but it rang the right post.
Forty-five seconds later, Colford took a slashing penalty, and Ratte notched his fourth of the contest on a pretty pass from McCarthy. Upon snaring it, he curled around a pair of Falcons’ defenders and drilled a wicked attempt at Pierce, one that whistled under his stick.
He closed with 19 saves.
“It was the same thing (that has plagued us) all year; penalties, penalties, penalties,” explained West coach Jared Zimmer, whose squad’s season ended at 7-6 overall. “It’s unfortunate … but when you come up against a team like Lincoln, which is so precise, you just can’t make mistakes.
“Lacrosse is a precision game; if we go out and get seven or eight penalties, that we can handle, but we had more than 10, and that’s when we’re in trouble,” he added. “Still, we’ve got so much experience this year, but this is what this team has to learn. You play a team like this, one that’s more seasoned, and you learn.”
On the positive side, it was West’s first-ever playoff appearance.
For Lincoln, Ethier noted he was particularly proud of his defense, namely senior Adam Petit, sophomores Alex DaSilva and Tom Janicki and senior tri-captain Mark Barrett.
Polak needed to make only two stops during his tenure.
“Petit played well for us, and DaSilva played extremely well,” he said. “As for Mark, he started a little flat, but he did a tremendous job of picking up the intensity in the second half.
“When he elevates his game, like he did later, he’s virtually unstoppable,” he continued. “He controlled the game, and … well, he dominated … If we play like we did (Thursday), we should be OK (against either Coventry or Westerly). We want to advance; if we continue this intensity, we should move on.
“But Coventry’s a tough test.”