Being undefeated and ranked No. 1 in Florida hasn’t hampered the St. Thomas Aquinas boys’ lacrosse team’s focus one bit.
Expecting a battle from visiting Naples Barron Collier, the Raiders made the clutch plays necessary Saturday night to secure a 12-10 victory in a third round state play-in game at Brian Piccolo Stadium.
The win sets up a state semifinal for Aquinas on Friday against Boca Raton St. Andrews at IMG Academy in Bradenton.
“The way we are treating each game right now we tell the kids, ‘Play the next game like it’s the most important of your lives,’ ” St. Thomas Aquinas coach Terry Crowley said.
The Raiders (20-0) showed that sense of urgency with three goals in the final five minutes that helped secure the team’s second consecutive berth in the state final four. Aquinas will continue its bid to become South Florida’s first state lacrosse champion since the sport became sanctioned by the Florida High School Athletic Association in 2008.
“The mentality this whole season has been to go game by game and give it all we can,” said senior Alex Tumminello, a University of Maryland signee. “We remember the loss last year and we refuse to let that happen again.”
Tumminello scored three goals in the first half for Aquinas, which jumped out to a 7-2 lead after one quarter.
But his biggest play came in the final minute when he broke up a Barron Collier scoring chance and forced a turnover that allowed the Raiders to hang on for the victory.
“Barron Collier is one of the best teams we’ve faced in the past couple of years,” Crowley said. “Defensively, it was a chess match. They shifted in and out of their zone and did a great job taking J.P. [Crowley] out of the game. It came down to the faceoffs and we ended up winning one more than they did, and sometimes that’s the difference in this game.”
Tied at 9 with 4:32 left, Crowley, a United States lacrosse All-American, broke the stalemate with a goal — his second of the game. Crowley, a Towson signee, later assisted fellow All-American Alec Cumella on another goal with 45 seconds left. That score came almost two minutes after Barron Collier (16-5) cut Aquinas’ lead to 11-10.
All-American Luis Yovino, a Furman University signee, scored three goals, his third coming in the closing minutes.
Despite taking the early lead, Aquinas couldn’t find the mark the entire second quarter as Barron Collier shut down its attack and outscored the Raiders 5-0 in the period to tie the score at 7 at halftime. Cumella broke the tie early in the third with a goal, but that wound up being the only scoring in the third.
“They were locking us off in the second and we had some trouble with that,” Tumminello said. “Our coaches are great, and they helped us find a way.”