The Section One lacrosse playoffs are still a few days away, but Saturday afternoon’s matchup between rivals Pleasantville and Briarcliff sure provided fans with an early taste of the postseason.
With Jack Howe and Declan McDermott each scoring three goals and Brian Reda adding two more, the Panthers managed to overcome a serious upset bid by the host Bears, winning 10-8 in a seesaw game that had spills, thrills and four lead changes.
“Whenever we play them, no matter what the records are, it’s always a chippy, feisty game,” said Panthers head coach Chris Kear shortly after his three-time defending sectional champions had overcome a rare halftime deficit. “We knew they were gonna give us their best. This is basically one of their biggest games, if not the biggest game of the season. So we tried to prepare mentally that this was gonna be like this, and it sure was.”
But just a couple of minutes into a rematch of the 2017 Class C title game, the Panthers already had Briarcliff reeling. Howe and Reda scored goals nine seconds apart and the Panthers had a 2-0 lead with 9:31 to go in the opening quarter. The Bears were forced to call an early timeout.
“Just settle them down a little bit and tell ‘em to relax,” said Briarcliff coach Al Meola about the early chat with his team. “Do what we do and it’ll come. We just had to relax and settle into the game again.”
The Bears served notice they were up for the fight by slicing the Pleasantville lead in half not long after returning from their huddle. Chase Duke got the ball to Peter Olsen, who fired it past Panther goalie Jack Fitzgerald from left of the cage. But with 2:46 remaining in the period, Reda, now the all-time leading goal scorer in section history, converted following some impressive P’ville ball movement and the Panthers took a 3-1 advantage into the second quarter.
Briarcliff’s zone defense kept Pleasantville off the scoreboard for the entire second period. Meanwhile, the Bears got goals from Duke with 8:50 left in the half and Aidan Murnane with 7:12 on the clock to tie the score at 3-3. Then just 24 seconds before halftime, the Bears’ Spencer Rockmore concluded his lengthy control of the ball behind the cage by somehow slipping past McDermott to send a shot past Fitzgerald while tumbling to the turf.
At intermission, Pleasantville found itself in the unfamiliar position of trailing by a goal.
“Yeah, we talked a little bit about X’s and O’s,” said Kear. “But what we really said to them was it came down to heart. They were beating us to groundballs, they were winning faceoffs, they were outshooting us and they were outplaying us completely. We just had to go out there and want it more and I feel like we responded in the second half.”
Still, it was the Bears who started the scoring in the second half as Olson tallied his second goal, running to his right before sending a one-hopper past Fitzgerald and increasing the Briarcliff lead to 5-3. Unfortunately for the Bears, Pleasantville responded with three straight goals, starting with a missile with 8:22 left in the third quarter from McDermott, who also finished with three assists.
A Briarcliff turnover led to a goal by Patrick Doherty midway through the period, then Jack Halloran connected in a crowd 24 seconds later to give the Panthers a 6-5 edge. But the Bears answered with two straight goals, 43 seconds apart, by Duke and Zach Vincent to retake the lead. Another rocket from the stick of McDermott tied the game at 7-7 with 10 seconds left in the quarter.
A pair of goals by Howe in the fourth quarter, the first off a feed from McDermott a man up and the second while running to his left and firing a low, left-handed shot past Henry Anderson, enabled the Panthers to grab a 9-7 advantage with 6:24 remaining in the game.
“We talked a lot with Jack this week about getting more accurate with his shot,” said Kear. “I think he took that to heart and he was putting the shots on cage today and he was burying them. So that was a huge lift for us.”
A goal by the Bears’ Rockmore cut the P’ville lead to just one with 5:40 still remaining, but a little more than a minute later, McDermott, after a series of head fakes, fired in his third goal of the afternoon to provide the Panthers with their final margin. The final buzzer sounded as Fitzgerald was making his eighth save of the game, on a last, desperation shot by Rockmore.
“Proud of the effort,” said the Bears’ Meola, despite falling just short. “The four-quarter effort, we’ve been struggling with that all year long. We’ve played some tough teams and the wheels have come off at times. But, today, they played four solid, hard quarters. We made mistakes, but the effort was there for four quarters.”
“I think in the second half,” said Kear, “we got a few stops on defense, which we weren’t getting in the first half. We did get some stops, had some takeaways. And we actually killed off that penalty at the beginning of the half, which was a huge momentum swing. We had two men down, so that was nice to kill that off and that kind of gave us a little momentum in the third quarter.”
It wouldn’t be a shock if the two teams face each other once more this season, perhaps in the sectional championship for a second straight year.
“Yeah, we would love to get to that final game again if we can and get a rematch with them,” said Meola. “We’d love it. That’s what we want. That’s been our dream since last year when we came home off the bus.”