With the pain and anguish of a two-point loss in last year’s state championship game still burning inside and driving them, members of the St. Thomas Aquinas boys’ lacrosse team moved one step closer to redemption Saturday afternoon.
That’s when St. Thomas traveled to Gulliver Prep for a third round state play-in game and easily defeated Gulliver 13-5 to advance to its third consecutive final four.
The Raiders improved to 18-0 and will take on either Palm Beach Gardens Benjamin or Naples Barron Collier on Friday in a state semifinal at Jupiter High School.
It was a year ago that St. Thomas saw a second-half lead slip away, suffering a 13-11 loss to Orlando Lake Highland Prep in the state final in Bradenton.
“Winning state is the only goal we’ve had this year,” said junior Kevin Crowley who enjoyed a big day leading the way for his team with five goals. “We still remember the pain of coming so close and then coming up short last year. That has driven me every day, from getting up for practice to playing in games. We talk about it every day, and we’re ready to make that last step.”
Crowley scored two of his goals in the first period as Aquinas built a 4-0 lead after one quarter and played a classic game of keep-away in the process as it held possession of the ball 11 of the 12 minutes and allowed Gulliver (15-4) a single shot on goal.
“Our game plan was we wanted to get to them early and control the ball,” said St. Thomas coach Terry Crowley, who is Kevin’s father. “We wanted to try and keep them on defense because it’s harder to play defense and you burn twice as much energy, especially on a hot day like this. We weren’t in a rush to score. It was a matter of controlling the possessions, when we had the right opportunity and the right matchup, the offensive coordinator would then call a play. Once you get a little lead, you can kind of dictate from there, and that’s what we did.”
If there was a key moment in the contest, it might have come with just less than three minutes left in the first half. After Gulliver had battled back on a pair of Trevor Pelletier goals and one from C.J. Hassan to trim St. Thomas’ lead to 5-3, Gulliver keeper Lucas Rego lost the ball out of his stick right in front of the net. Sam Khalil was there to scoop up the loose ball and knock it into the net. Nine seconds before halftime, Khalil fed Crowley a perfect pass in front for another goal to make it 7-3 at the half.
Khalil, Crowley and Brennan Harhart each scored during the first eight minutes of the third quarter to build the lead to 10-3 and dash any hope of a Gulliver comeback.
And it came on a day when St. Thomas senior All-American and Furman commit Louie Yovino was held in check, scoring just once.
“What usually happens is if they key on Louie, that opens things up for Kevin and the other way around,” Terry Crowley said. “They were shutting down Louie, so that gave Kevin single coverage on the back side, and we were able to exploit that early on.”
Khalil, Harhart and Jimmy Harrington each finished with two goals to complement Crowley, but it was Aquinas’ ball-control ability and air-tight defense that frustrated Gulliver all day, especially, Hassan, the team’s leading scorer who was held to a single goal.
“Our style of play is really up tempo, a lot of transition offense, and we knew that we had to try and create some opportunities early, but you can’t do that if you don’t have the ball,” said Hassan who will play lacrosse for Colby College in Maine. “It was really frustrating for sure.”
American Heritage Boca/Delray girls’ team defeated St. Thomas Aquinas (15-4) 11-9 in the third round state play-in.