Warwick Vets coach Fred Schweizer expected his senior-laden team to be ready for Wednesday’s boys’ lacrosse playoff opener against Tiverton/Rogers, but with this group, he can never tell in the pre-game.
But he found out pretty quickly.
After the Tigers won the opening draw and possessed the ball for nearly three minutes, the ’Canes stole the ball, raced down the field and got a quick transition goal from Nate Brotman.
They were off and running. Vets led every step of the way from there and won 8-5 to clinch a spot in the Division III semifinals.
“It’s hard to tell with this group,” Schweizer said. “I normally don’t know until the game starts, but they were ready. They were ready from the beginning. We’ve got 11 seniors. They know this is their last shot, and they came out and played well.”
Vets will play top-seeded and two-time defending champion Smithfield in the semifinals on Wednesday at 3:45 p.m. at Bryant University. The Sentinels beat Toll Gate 8-4 in their quarterfinal game.
For Vets, it’s the second semifinal appearance in program history. In 2011, Vets also beat Tiverton/Rogers in the quarterfinals before falling to Toll Gate in the semis. Last year, Vets lost by a goal in the quarterfinal round.
This time, the ’Canes came in as a slight favorite over Tiverton/Rogers. They finished 9-3 while the Tigers went 7-5.
But Vets knew not to get too comfortable. In an April meeting, Vets won by just two goals.
“Especially now, in the playoffs, you’ve got to go in thinking any team can beat any other team,” said senior Will Hay. “You’ve got to stay on top, you’ve got to be on your game. No matter what the seeds are, you’ve got to work for it.”
Vets got the early lead by seizing its opportunities. After the opening possession by Tiverton/Rogers, Vets quickly moved up the field with John McNally getting it to Dylan Robert, who pushed it ahead to Brotman for the quick goal.
“You never want to fall behind early,” Schweizer said. “We got out to that lead and I think it gave us a little bit of confidence, a little bit of a boost.”
The Tigers won the next draw, too, and possessed the ball again, but as soon as the ’Canes got it back, they scored once more. A patient possession led to a goal by Goff from right in front of the net.
“We did very, very well on offense,” Hay said. “We moved the ball around and the patience definitely helped us. When we’re patient, it’s so much better. It opens things up and we’re so much more relaxed. It slows us down.”
The Tigers made it 2-1 late in the first quarter and hung around for much of the second quarter. The ’Canes possessed the ball for a good chunk of time, but came up empty on a pair of man-up situations and still led by just a goal with four minutes to go before halftime.
Finally, on the third Tiger penalty of the quarter, Hay ripped a shot from the left side and got it past goalie Evan McGreavey to give Vets some breathing room. Less than a minute later, after Vets won the ensuing draw, Chris Defreitas took a pass from Brotman and buried a shot for the 4-1 lead.
The Tigers got back within two on a goal with 21 seconds left, but Vets was still feeling good.
“We had a tough overtime game against Cranston West in the last game of the season, and I think that really was good for us coming into today,” Schweizer said. “Having come off two losses, to get that overtime win and come in today with a little bit of confidence helped us a lot. You never know what to expect in Division III lacrosse. This is a Tiverton team that came out and beat Coventry, who beat us. We wanted to make sure we didn’t take them lightly.”
The ’Canes and Tigers each scored a goal in the first four minutes of the half, making it 5-3, but Vets got two straight from Cody Sullivan and Hay to end the quarter and kept the Tigers off the board for nearly 13 minutes.
The defense, led by McNally, Max Andrade and Tyler Moran, was in control.
“Our defense has been solid all year,” Schweizer said. “They pressured the ball, they played smart, they didn’t pick up a lot of penalties. And they communicated well. They were ready.”
Things did get dicey when starting goalie Kyle Corvese aggravated an injury that had kept him out of the previous two games. He left late in the third quarter and didn’t return.
Defreitas, the back-up goalie, came on and didn’t miss a beat, making several key saves in the fourth quarter to keep Vets in front.
“Our backup goalie played the last two games of the season for us, and he’s been unbelievable,” Schweizer said. “It’s a loss because Kyle’s our captain, our leader. He’s been in net for me for four years. It’s a hit because you don’t know how the team will react. But I wasn’t concerned about Chris because I’ve seen what he can do, and the team responded.”
After the Tigers ended their scoring drought with seven minutes to go, but Vets got the next goal, with Sullivan scoring to make it 8-4 at the 2:18 mark. The Tigers scored one more goal but couldn’t get any closer.
Hay led a balanced Vets attack with two goals and two assists, while Brotman and Sullivan also had two goals each. Goff and Defreitas had one each.
The ’Canes will now try to knock off Smithfield. The Sentinels haven’t lost a game since 2010, going 12-0 this year. In their only meeting with Vets this year, the Sentinels won 8-5 on May 10.
“If we can play the way we played today – patient, communicating on defense – I think we’ll be fine,” Schweizer said. “We don’t have anything to lose going into that game and everything to gain. We’ll work hard to get them prepared. Smithfield is a solid, disciplined team and we have to be the same.”