Onondaga When Henry Mann and Cole Willard scored goals less than 90 seconds into Tuesday afternoon's boys lacrosse showdown between Cazenovia and Westhill, it appeared that the reigning state Class C champions would dismiss the challenge of the unbeaten Warriors.
But that would prove far from true.
Staying patient on its attack and turning back all of Cazenovia's attempts to pull away, Westhill had a chance all the way to the final seconds, but it was the Lakers' defense that, in a large measure, helped produce a tense 5-4 victory over the Warriors.
"I can't say enough about our defense," said Cazenovia head coach Jim Longo. "They're our most experienced group and they've been playing great all year."
And it had to be great on this windy, wet day, for Westhill, whose 7-0 start had helped them rise to no. 6 in the latest state Class C rankings (Cazenovia, of course, owns the top spot), had no intention of playing at the fast, high-scoring tempo the Lakers prefer.
Even after those early goals from Mann and Willard, plus P.J. Brown's tally that made it 3-0 later in the first quarter, the Warriors clung to its game plan. Whenever it had the ball, Westhill worked around the perimeter for minutes at a time, waiting for just the right shot, rather than immediately engage the Lakers' sturdy back line.
In some ways, this was a healthy dose of respect. Mike Nourse, Eli Mitchell, T.J. Connellan and the rest of Cazenovia's defenders caused Westhill fits every time it tried to get close to the net, offering strong protection to goalie Trevor Cross, who mostly stayed quiet in the first half.
Not until Mark Purcell's goal 3:32 into the second quarter did the Warriros get on the board. Brown answered less than 90 seconds later, making it 4-1, but Casey Rogers produced a goal late in the period, and with Westhill goalie Jack Sweeney making a series of big stops, Cazenovia found itself clinging to that 4-2 edge at halftime.