Cazenovia junior defender Eli Mitchell (11) makes a check in front of goalie Trevor Cross during Saturday's Class C regional final at SUNY-Potsdam. Mitchell and his fellow defenders made many key stops during the Lakers' 7-4 victory over the Shamrocks.
Each of the previous two times the Cazenovia boys lacrosse team claimed a state Class C championship, it had to endure a fair amount of stress at the hands - and sticks - of Salmon River.
Now, going for a third state title, the Lakers again had to face the Shamrocks, again was pushed to the limit - and again made it through, prevailing 7-4 in Saturday's regional final at SUNY-Potsdam.
Cazenovia won despite a long mid-game scoring drought and mistakes, such as an ill-timed illegal stick penalty, that may have derailed lesser teams. But the adversity only seemed to make the Lakers stronger, especially on the defensive side.
Each side carried undefeated marks into the game - Cazenovia at 20-0, Salmon River at 18-0. And while the Lakers had certainly faced tougher competition throughout the season, the Shamrocks proved, once more, that it could keep right up.
Jake Lewis, off a feed from Cole Willard, put the Lakers on the board 38 seconds into the game, only to have Russ Oakes answer for Salmon River. Then Henry Mann took over, converting twice late in the period and then, for good measure, intercepting a clearing pass from Shamrocks goalie Tazz Oakes and scoring in the last minute of the period.
And that would be Cazenovia's last goal for a while. It went through the second quarter scoreless, but here the Lakers' defense really started to take hold.
Anchored by seniors Jay Hahn and Mike Nourse, plus junior Eli Mitchell and long-stick midfielder T.J. Connellan, the Lakers forced a stalemate, with Trevor Cross contributing a quartet of first-half saves, so the 4-1 lead Cazenovia enjoyed after one period remained the same at halftime.
Then it would get nervous. With Salmon River a man up at the start of the third quarter, Russ Oakes cut the margin to 4-2, and then Kyle Lewis scored at the 4:04 mark, and the Shamrocks were within one, 4-3, causing nerves the Lakers hadn't felt in the second half of any of its post-season games.