The bad outweighed the good on Friday night for the Warwick Vets boys’ lacrosse team, but the fourth quarter at least provided the ’Canes with an important dose of confidence.
They can hang with Smithfield – it’s just a matter of consistency.
Playing the unbeaten Sentinels, a team that has won the last two Division III titles and hasn’t lost a game since 2010, Vets fell behind 7-1 before rallying to get back within two goals, only to ultimately lose 8-5.
It wasn’t Vets’ top performance of the season by any means, but the team found out that if the road to the title goes through Smithfield, then getting there isn’t a completely impossible task.
“We’re not going to settle,” Vets head coach Fred Schweizer said. “We’re going to work harder and move beyond this. I told them, ‘I hope it stings.’ Because they’re not that much better than we are.”
The loss was only the second of the year for the ’Canes, who dropped to 8-2. They sit in third place in D-III, trailing only 10-0 Smithfield and 9-2 Coventry – the team that handed Vets its other loss.
It was the second and third quarters that did in the ’Canes on Friday. With the score 1-1 after a quarter, Smithfield broke things open with three goals in the second and three goals in the third.
Vets, meanwhile, was scoreless during that span, looking overmatched and out-manned by the D-III favorites.
“I felt good about the first quarter,” Schweizer said. “Then, all of a sudden we were dropping balls. In transition, our middies weren’t getting back. We were tired.”
Facing what looked like an insurmountable deficit, the ’Canes suddenly turned up the intensity, and began to play like a team that hopes to be vying for a championship.
Two minutes into the fourth quarter, John McNally stole the ball near midfield and, using a long stick, went all the way to the goal and beat goalie Michael Macera to make it 7-2.
At the 7:56 mark, Smithfield got a locked-in penalty for three minutes and Vets didn’t waste the opportunity. Just 20 seconds into the man-advantage, Will Hay fired home a shot from the left off a pass from Dylan Robert, and it was 7-3. Three minutes after that, with the penalty just expired, Robert found himself alone in front off a pass from Nate Brotman, and he scored past Macera to make the score 7-4.
“They kept the pressure on,” Smithfield head coach Joe Renzi said. “A couple of our guys starting folding. We went a man down for three minutes and 7-1 went to 7-4. Momentum goes quick.”
Off the ensuing draw, Vets’ Thomas Zincone got the ball and took a shot, but it was saved by Macera. However, Macera tried to get rid of the ball and instead threw it to the ’Canes’ Shawn Goff. He quickly passed it off to Brotman in front, who scored to make it 7-5 with 2:56 to play.
But that was the end of the line. The Sentinels used their quick transition passing to get up the field soon afterwards, and Matt Walker found Brendan Benoit on the left post, who slid a shot past Vets goalie Kyle Corvese with 1:57 to play, re-upping the lead to three goals.
The ’Canes couldn’t generate much more over the rest of the game, and they were left with a bad taste in their mouth from how they played during the middle portion of the game.
“I’m not going to stand here and make excuses for what caused it,” Schweizer said. “It’s us. We didn’t play our game. I’ll attribute it to not preparing, not practicing hard enough, not being ready to go.”
Vets struck first in the game’s opening minutes, as Cody Sullivan gave his team a 1-0 lead with a close-range goal. Smithfield came back, getting a goal from Ben Grundy just prior to the first quarter coming to a close.
Then, though, the Sentinels took off. Benoit scored early in the second, and Walker did as well. Bryan Kortick scored with 3:57 to play in the half, putting Smithfield up 4-1.
In the third, it wasn’t much better. Vets held possession early on, but once it lost the ball, Smithfield darted up the field quickly and padded its lead. Walker scored early, and Louis Catarina and Benoit each scored in the quarter as well.
“It is what it is,” Renzi said. “If you get the ball, you can score. That’s what you work on.”
The ’Canes will now turn their attention to finishing the regular season strong, as they have a chance to grab the No. 2 or No. 3 seed heading into the postseason. They host 8-3 Lincoln today at 7 p.m., then finish up at 7-4 Cranston West on Friday at 3:30 p.m.
If they play like they did in the fourth quarter against Smithfield – and not like they did in the second and third quarters – Vets figures to be right in the mix.
“If you’re going to take something positive out of this game, it’s how they picked it up and they stopped dropping balls and getting ground balls and moving the ball better,” Schweizer said. “And we did shut them down in the second half.”