Contrary to popular belief, not every state title in Florida goes through Broward County or St. Thomas Aquinas.
In boys’ lacrosse it runs through Central Florida. More to the point. It runs through Orlando Lake Highland Prep.
The now three-time defending state champions fought off a last-ditch challenge, sending St. Thomas Aquinas to a 13-11 loss in the state title game Saturday at IMG Academy. Whereas Lake Highland (21-3) captured its third consecutive state title and the fourth in program history, the loss for Aquinas (21-1) stings a bit more than most.
A victory would have given the Raiders the first state title in program history and the first boys’ lacrosse state title in Broward County history since lacrosse became an FHSAA-sanctioned sport. Furthermore, the Raiders would been just the second team in state history to go undefeated and win a state title. The only team to achieve the honor was St. Andrew’s in 2009 when the Scots went 24-0.
St. Thomas entered the state title as a slight underdog. The Raiders beat the Highlanders earlier in the year, but they were still going up against a program that has become a staple at the state tournament.
Neither team really used the first quarter to gain an advantage. It was more about surveying in the hopes of finding weaknesses to expose later in the game.
The intel the Raiders picked up in the first helped in the second quarter. Lake Highland held a 4-2 lead until junior midfielder Louie Yovino fired off a trademark sidewinding shot to cut it to 4-3. Alex Tumminello scored seconds later to tie it at 4.
Yovino gave Aquinas a 5-4 lead with 5:10. What the Raiders did to achieve the lead mimicked what they had done all season. They would rotate possession among players hoping someone could find space and most times, it was Yovino who found freedom.
Aquinas took the one-goal lead into the half. Then the Highlanders showed why they’re the state’s No. 1 program.
Lake Highland’s Kyle Richbourg tied it at 5 just 44 seconds into the third. Richbourg struck again for a 6-5 lead and Jackson Colling scored his team’s third unanswered goal for a 8-5 lead.
The quick strikes were then met by punishing hits. For once, the Raiders were facing a team who could finally compete with them physically. Some of those hits led to the Highlanders getting into penalty trouble. Even with the errors, the closest Aquinas came to tying was when Kevin Crowley slid a pass to Yovino for a 9-7 shortfall.
While the score changed, two goals was the closest Aquinas could come. Lake Highland bled out the last three minutes by running Aquinas around. With each pass, the chances of capturing a state title began to dissipate.
Even though Aquinas fell short of its goal, it still turned out to be the best season in program and county history.
Typically cursed by injuries, the Raiders made it through a whole season without anyone getting hurt.
Any challenge the Raiders faced, they met it. They entered the title game 15-0 against teams with at least a .500 winning percentage.
Returning to state next season is possible yet it’ll be a challenge.
Raiders coach Terry Crowley made a point of playing his second and third-line players in many of his team’s games. That experience will be needed. Aquinas loses leading scorer J.P Crowley, midfielder Alec Cumella and Tumminello. Yet Aquinas will return Yovino, goalie Mike Adler and promising freshman defender Noah Cash.