Pleasantville boys’ lacrosse coach Chris Kear isn’t used to having to call a timeout early in a game to calm his players down. But on Friday night at Mahopac High School, with the Section One, Class C championship up for grabs, he had no choice.
His top-seeded Panthers were reeling from an unexpected three-goal offensive blitz from archrival Briarcliff and Kear was not about to let the pursuit of a third straight sectional title go up in smoke in the opening quarter.
“Yeah, I didn’t want it to get out of hand,” he would concede later. “I didn’t want them to get a four- or five-goal lead, which would really put us in the hole. Everybody started questioning themselves, so I felt like three goals was the time. My assistant was saying one more goal. ‘Eh, let’s call it now’. I think it was the right time. Just calmed ‘em down, got the crowd out of it a little bit and settled us down.”
As it turned out, the early timeout did provide immediate dividends as the Panthers quickly overcame their 3-0 deficit and took command of the contest. Lucas Cohen scored four goals and assisted on five others, earning offensive most valuable player honors as Pleasantville defeated the third-seeded Bears 11-7.
“The message was to relax, calm down, remember what the game plan is, stick to your matchups,” said Kear, whose team earned a berth in Wednesday afternoon’s state regional against Section 9 champ Highland at Kingston’s Dietz Stadium. “Trust in the game plan and just go out there and execute. And just take a deep breath. It seemed like they calmed down a little bit after that.”
Before the momentum-changing timeout, Briarcliff, which had trailed the Panthers 10-1 at one point during the teams’ regular-season contest on the way to an 18-11 loss, had left the Panther fans in the bleachers stunned and silent, scoring three goals in just under two minutes starting midway through the opening quarter.
The Bears’ blitz began with a goal from Zach Vincent on a pass from Camron Fash to break the scoreless deadlock with 6:26 left in the first period. Fash doubled the Briarcliff lead with a howitzer of a shot 58 seconds later and Jack Reish, running to his left, got to the front of the cage to beat goalie Jack Fitzgerald a minute later.
“I think it’s a credit to our kids,” said Briarcliff coach Rob Anderson about the Bears’ torrid start. “It’s a credit to their preparation, the thought process, their mindset, their motivation and a great couple of days of work and practice. They certainly came out the right way. Their hard work and preparation really showed at the beginning of the game.”
“We weren’t really too rattled,” said Pleasantville junior Brian Reda, who finished with four goals and two assists, becoming the Panthers’ all-time leading scorer. “I think we just knew if we didn’t play our ball that we could get upset by anybody. And we kind of said that in the huddle during the timeout, and we just started playing Pleasantville lacrosse and we started rolling from that point on.”
Just over a half minute after the Panthers returned to the field after their talk, Reda, cutting in front of the crease, took a pass from Cohen behind the cage and easily deposited his first goal of the game. Only 16 seconds later, Cohen netted his first goal, spinning his way free left of the cage and beating Bears goalie Henry Anderson, who was later voted the game’s defensive most valuable player. A big save by Anderson on Reda with just over a minute left in the period enabled Briarcliff to take a 3-2 lead into the second quarter.
But 30 seconds into the new period, Reda got free right of the cage and tied the game, much to the dismay of Bears assistant Al Meiola, who was waiting for a slide that never came.
“C’mon,” he yelled at his players, “we know he’s the best shooter in the section. Are you serious?”
The Panthers gained the lead for good with 7:36 left in the half, on a goal by Nolan McAndrew moments after goalie Jack Fitzgerald turned aside a Briarcliff shot on a man-up situation. Another Fitzgerald save led to a fast-break score by Ryan Drillock that increased the Pleasantville lead to 5-3 with 6:30 remaining before halftime.
A long Panther possession ended with a goal from freshman Jake Coleman and then Cohen scored again with the Bears down a man 32 seconds before intermission. The Bears, once leading by three goals, walked off the field at halftime facing a 7-3 deficit.
“I think the second quarter for us was the biggest part of the game,” said Reda. “That gave us a comfortable lead, so we didn’t have to worry so much about coming from behind in the second half. It was more building the lead and maintaining it. So that was definitely a bit of a relief.”
The Bears, scoreless for over 20 minutes, finally got on the board when Fash dodged his way inside with 9:30 left in the third quarter. But Briarcliff was blanked the rest of the period, while the Panthers got two more goals from Reda, sandwiched around one by Cohen. Pleasantville, forced to win in double overtime in last year’s low-scoring final against Bronxville, went to the fourth quarter ahead 10-4.
The Bears, though, got a goal from Vincent nearly four minutes into the period and another from Keaton McCann two minutes later to close within 10-6. But that was as close as they would get. With 1:09 left on the clock, Coleman capped the Pleasantville victory by scoring his second goal with the Bears two men down. Nicholas Cebel tallied his second goal of the game for Briarcliff with 45 seconds to go, but moments later the Panthers started celebrating their third straight sectional title.
“This year, the kids have had big goals,” said Kear. “They sort of thought they would win the section championship this year. Briarcliff played great. Hats off to them. But the kids want to win more. They don’t want to just get to the state semis and get knocked off. They want to go to state semis and beyond.”
The victory over Briarcliff was just the latest in an impressive streak by the Panthers following a midseason slide during which they lost four times in just over a week.
“Once we lost to Mamaroneck,” said Reda, “we had a little team meeting. We said we’re not losing anymore, and from that point on we’ve won 10 in a row. So something we said must’ve clicked and we’ve been doing a great job.”
Andy is a sports editor at Examiner Media, covering seven high schools in the mid-Westchester region with a notebook and camera. He began there in the fall of 2007 following 15 years as a candid photographer for the largest school picture company in the tri-state area.