Printed on the back of the warmups for the University lacrosse team are the letters “PUSH,” which stands for “Persist until something happens.”
For 24 minutes against Kenston in a Division II regional semifinal May 21, the Preppers persisted.
Come the second half, something finally happened.
Ignited by a physical, staunch defensive effort, the host second-seeded Preppers scored the first six goals of the second half and ran away with a 16-12 win over the third-seeded Bombers.
With the win, University (13-5) advances to a regional championship match May 24 to play Chagrin Falls. The Tigers defeated Akron Hoban, 19-6, in another regional semifinal May 21 to forge a rematch of last year’s regional championship won by the Preppers.
“Keep pushing until something happens,” US coach Hans Rydquist said. “That’s kind of the burning issue for us this year. Keep pushing until something happens in our way.”
When Kenston (16-4) scored three straight goals in the waning minutes of the second period, the Bombers had an 8-7 lead. At that point with momentum on their side, halftime probably came a little too early for the visiting team.
A big swing of momentum happened early in the third. A would-be Kenston goal was waved off for interference in the crease. University scored six unanswered goals to turn what would have been a 9-7 Kenston lead into a 13-8 University lead.
The Bombers never recovered.
“It’s tough,” Kenston coach Jay Lammers said of the waved-off goal for his team. “When those eagle eyes come out on a crease call and not anywhere else, it’s a tough, bitter pill to swallow. But what are you gonna do?”
University’s game-changing run put the game out of reach. T.J. Kelly started it with a goal off a pass from Charlie Bidwell, George Brinn (who had seven goals in the game) ranged in from the right for a backhander, and then Jake Kapp rifled one in from long distance to make it 10-8.
Brinn tallied again on a pass from Kelly, Brooks Crowley found the net off a pass from Brinn, and then George Curley scored on a charge from behind the net.
Even when Kenston broke the momentum — and an 11-minute, 15-second drought — University scored twice in the final 17 seconds of the third for a 15-9 lead.
“In the first half, we were giving the ball away a lot,” Brinn said. “I thought if we cleaned up our mistakes, we’d win. And we did.”
Another big point of the third was University changing to a zone defense, which turned what Lammers called his team’s “hair on fire” offense to a crawl.
“We want to push the pace of the game as fast as the game will allow us to go,” he said. “US did a good job of slowing the ball down and roughing our guys up on those 50-50 ground balls.”
Inserting Kapp, a physical player, in at the faceoff position was big, too.
“He’s a great player,” Rydquist said. “We often say he’s the best player on the field, offense or defense. He does everything for us.”
While Kenston did score a few times in the final period, the Bombers didn’t have time to make up for what happened in the pivotal third period.
Brian Apshago led Kenston with three goals and an assist. Will Britton, Clay Barkan and Jack Rogers all had two for what Lammers termed “the most successful season in Kenston lacrosse history.”
Brinn’s seven goals were supplemented by two goals each from Max Baldridge and Charlie Bidwell.
Now the Preppers are in a position to clinch a state final four berth, with a win over vaunted rival Chagrin Falls. The goal is to get back to a state semifinal, where the Preppers have lost two straight years to Toledo St. Francis.
“Before we play, we put the last goal (from that match) in a group chat. It drives us,” Kapp said. “We lost to the same team at the same place two years in a row. We’re trying to not let that happen again.”