Sometimes you watch a game and have to scratch your head afterwards.
That was certainly true Wednesday.
Lake Highland’s season-long struggle continues. Now 5-7 after the win Thursday over Boone, there’s a possibility that with a final three games of Hagerty, Cardinal Mooney and Lake Brantley that LHP could finish the regular season with a losing record. The first three games of the season, all home losses, to Lake Mary, Ponte Vedra and St. Thomas, were not out of the realm of possibility, but it was not the start to the season we are accustomed to seeing from the Highlanders.
Although the first three games were losses, two were by one goal and the defense was holding in a reasonable fashion.
But that has now changed and the results are rough. In the next four losses, to Lovett (Ga.), IMG, Bishop Moore and Benjamin the defense has yielded 79 goals and there’s no way the team will be a threat for state honors if that continues. Benjamin scored 8 goals in the first quarter and none of them were on a man up situation, and only three were assisted, as Benjamin’s players found space to shoot in close a number of times, as LHP’s defense failed to react quickly to cover space.
And it could have been worse, as Benjamin missed the net with 14 shots in the first half, with a number of those uncontested within 10 yards. Combine that with a 23-9 faceoff edge for the Bucs and it’s easy to see how this game got out of control early. Confidence is a fragile thing at times with a young team, as LHP only shows 4 seniors on the roster, and the defense is mostly sophomore-laden, so this might be the transition year to a new crew ready to come back next season. What I saw Wednesday does not lead me to think they can make the same run to the finals as last year, when they looked like the proverbial Nine Cat Life.
Benjamin’s season has been a little more difficult to analyze so far, as the early schedule looked better on paper than how it played out and the OT loss to Jupiter was kind of par for when those two play. There’s two more tough games with Saint Andrew’s and Bishop Moore to get a better feel but the schedule is both shorter (two less games) and less rigorous as in other years. That might be good or bad. A few less chances to get dinged up before the playoffs or not enough battle-testing. We’ll see how it plays out.
One interesting thing about the game was it signalled, at least for FLN viewing purposes, the debut of Stevie Nicklaus as an offensive force to mirror older brother Will. Will is playing far more at midfield this year and with Chase Farriss also stepping up that left a left wing opening for Stevie to step into and he took advantage Wednesday.
As for the game, I have to admit it was not what I would really consider a good game. There were patches of play offensively but as the game went on it almost looked to me to be the lacrosse equivalent of a touch football game and the lack of a close score devolved into a low level of defensive intensity. Shots were found in the low interior of both defenses too frequently and it showed the most in the save percentages. Both teams ran two goalies and the final numbers show 29 total goals on 49 combined shots on goal for a combined save percentage of 41%. The third quarter showed 15 combined turnovers and that’s more than a game full for these two programs historically. It made for a not very attractive game to watch.
But, at least for Benjamin, the offense was able to put this one away for the most part by halftime and they now go on, while LHP really needs to dive deep into their past and recapture what worked in the past so successfully. The offensive capability still showed at times in their settled situations but not to the point it can carry the team.
Eleven goals were scored in the first period. Benjamin opened the scoring at 9:41 as Farriss took the Will Nicklaus left wing GLE feed up top for the step down to the top right corner to open the scoring. LHP’s Joe Doremus took the Derek Farwell feed from left GLE as he cut down the wing for the left hand, high short side for 1-1 at 7:50. Benjamin responded with three goals in 71 seconds to make it 4-1. Matt Kaneb fed S. Nicklaus on the crease, W. Nicklaus with the dodge from up top, down the right alley, for the right hand low shot and Michael Lobosco with the pop forward and clear path down the middle for the three goals. Christian Cisneros got one back for LHP at 5:01 as he worked from right wing to the top and over to the left before finding Keanu Merle all alone in the middle for the left hand low and 4-2. But Benjamin responded with three more quick goals, in 1:33, to open it up to 7-2. Ethan Denenberg at 3:26 unassisted as he finished off a fast break, followed by S. Nicklaus’ right alley dodge at 2:40 and finished by Kaneb’s crease feed to W. Nicklaus from behind at 1:53. Cisneros made it 7-3 with 44 seconds to go with a crafty bounce shot off the left wing, using his defender as a screen but Blake Chami responded with 16 seconds left as he picked off the ball, went around a defender, and found the the low corner to make it 8-3 after one.
Benjamin stretched the lead to 10-3 with two early goals 42 seconds apart. Will Nicklaus from AJ Levitt, all alone in the front of the crease and Erik Sorenson from Grant Bretzlaff on the top left side. Cisneros was then credited with a strange goal at 9:02 to make it 10-4. While lying on the ground about 5 yards out it looked to me like the defender smacked his stick and the ball popped out and in an arc into the top left corner of the goal . . . scoring that one is interesting. 46 seconds later LHP drew to 10-5 as Kyle Piercy took a feed all alone on the left wing for the step down 9I did not get who assisted that one). But that was as close as LHP was to get as Benjamin scored the last three of the quarter to make it 13-5 at the half. Farriss curling from behind up the left alley, Bretzlaff taking the Kaneb feed in front from left GLE for the one-timer and Lobosco popping forward the next faceoff and taking advantage of a lack of a slide to go between the legs.
The run continued with three more goals to start the third to make it 16-5. All three were EMO goals. Farris from Kaneb up top for the step down, Stevie from Will in the middle for the bounce shot and Farris from Will Nicklaus on the left crease. LHP’s Farwell from Doremus on the right crease all alone at 4:43 made it 16-6 but Benjamin ran off the next four, carrying over to the fourth for the 20-6 lead. LHP scored the last three goals of the game to close it out 20-9. Benjamin getting goals from Farriss, Will and Stevie Nicklaus and Joey Berg while Keating Sane, Zach Davenport and Piercy added to their totals.
A very somber mood on the LHP sideline afterwards.
Benjamin plays Jupiter Christian at home on Saturday and LHP travels to Hagerty on Tuesday, after playing Boone on Thursday.
Faceoffs: Benjamin 23-9
Shots: Benjamin 49-31
Shots on Goal: Benjamin 28-21
Turnovers: Benjamin 18-15
Penalties: LHP 4-1
Chase Farris 5G
Will Nicklaus 3G/4A
Stevie Nicklaus 4G
Matt Kaneb 1G/3A
Michael Lobosco 2G
Blake Chami and Grant Bretzlaff with 1G/1A each
Ethan Denenberg, Erik Sorenson and Joey Berg with 1G each
Colin Ryan and AJ Levitt with 1A each
Bryce Kendrigan and Ty Campbell combined for 12 saves
Christian Cisneros 2G/1A
Kole Piercy 2G
Joe Doremus and Derek Farwell with 1G/1A each
Keanu Merle, Keating Sane and Zach Davenport with 1G each
Jack Frazee 1A
Tim Curtin and Chris Demaree combined for 8 saves
Thanks to Coach Lowe and Coach Vander Meulen for talking to me before and after the game.