High School Sports

St. Thomas Aquinas wins first boys’ lacrosse state championship

St. Thomas Aquinas' Kevin Crowley (9) tries to gain control of the ball while Gulliver Prep's Chris Stefans (25) defends during the first quarter of a third round play-in game on Saturday, April 23, 2016 at Gulliver Prep.
St. Thomas Aquinas' Kevin Crowley (9) tries to gain control of the ball while Gulliver Prep's Chris Stefans (25) defends during the first quarter of a third round play-in game on Saturday, April 23, 2016 at Gulliver Prep. mocner@miamiherald.com

The St. Thomas Aquinas boys’ lacrosse team’s unfinished business from 2015 is now finished. A year after falling one victory shy of a perfect season, the Raiders won their first state championship by defeating previously unbeaten Ponte Vedra 13-11 at Jupiter High School.

The championship extends a tradition of excellence for St. Thomas. Boys’ lacrosse is the 19th sport at the school to win an FHSAA state title, and the fourth program to win one this school year. The Raiders finished 19-0.

Raiders coach Terry Crowley said as the final seconds ticked away, he thought to himself, “All the hard work is paying off.”

“I’m honored to coach them, honestly. This is a great group, and they stay focused the whole year.”

It was the first time in the history of the FHSAA boys’ lacrosse tournament that the championship game didn’t have Boca Raton-St. Andrew’s or Orlando-Lake Highland Prep in it. They split the previous eight titles, with Lake Highland Prep winning the past three, including a 13-11 title-game victory against St. Thomas last year at IMG Academy in Bradenton.

“The seniors last year when we lost said, ‘We won’t let this happen again,’ ” Crowley said.

Junior attacker Kevin Crowley had five goals, including his team’s final two, which pushed the Raiders’ lead from 11-10 to 13-10 midway through the fourth quarter. Senior midfielder Brennan Harhart added three goals. Clay Welch and Reid Smith had three goals apiece for the Sharks (23-1).

Crowley opened the scoring only 1:33 into the game. Then after  4 1/2 scoreless minutes, the floodgates opened. Eleven goals were scored in a span of 12 minutes — three each by Harhart and Sharks midfielder Clay Welch — and St. Thomas led 7-5 midway through the second quarter and 8-7 at halftime.

Sharks attacker Matthew Keeler’s second goal of the game tied it at 10 with 1:10 left in the third quarter — only the second tie of the game — but Jimmy Harrington answered to give the Raiders an 11-10 lead with 11 seconds left.

Terry Crowley said the Raiders’ transition game made the difference.

“From restraining line to restraining line, our athletes got up and down,” he said. “And I think we wore them down a little in the fourth quarter.”

Three-year Raiders starting goaltender Mikey Adler, who survived a shark attack in Melbourne Beach three years ago (a bite left him with 40 stitches), came through with 14 saves, including three in the fourth quarter, during which he gave up only one goal. On Friday night, he held Palm Beach Benjamin scoreless for the final 18:41 in St. Thomas’ 11-10, triple-overtime victory in the semifinals.

Said Terry Crowley: “We joke with Mikey all the time. We say big-time players play big in big-time games … [then with emphasis toward their goaltender] Adler. That’s the guy time after time.”

Now that St. Thomas finally has a title, Crowley said the team isn’t going to rest on its laurels. It’s planning on going to a camp together in July in the lacrosse hotbed of Long Island, New York.

“There’s no rest for the weary,” he said.

GIRLS

St. John’s-Bartram Trail ended Vero Beach’s dynasty with an 8-7 overtime victory in the girls’ championship game. Alexis Marcionette’s fourth goal of the game ended it 3:37 into the first sudden-death period. Vero Beach had won every girls FHSAA tournament since its inception in 2008. (The Indians’ 2009 title was vacated.)

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