The Warwick Vets boys' lacrosse team traveled to Bryant University for a Division III semifinal on Wednesday with an upset on its mind.
But Smithfield is not easily upset.
The top-seeded Sentinels haven't lost a game since 2010, and they didn't lose one Wednesday. They took the lead in the second quarter, controlled possession consistently from there and clinched a spot in their third consecutive championship game with a 10-4 victory.
“They're just so disciplined and they wear you down,” said Vets coach Fred Schweizer. “Today, they really capitalized on our mistakes. That was the difference. We just weren't clean. You can't beat a Smithfield if you're not playing clean. We're dropping the ball, we'd win a face-off but not possess. And they capitalized. They're patient and they can really wear you down. Their discipline was the difference.”
The loss ended a successful season for the 'Canes, who went 9-3 in the regular season – their best mark ever – and beat Tiverton/Rogers in the quarterfinals. But the program's first finals berth wasn't in the cards.
Vets scored the game's first goal, a Shawn Goff tally with 8:24 left in the first half off a pass from Nate Brotman. Smithfield tied it three minutes later and took the lead with 1:27 left, but Vets got a big goal from Will Hay with just one second on the clock to tie the score heading into the second quarter.
Any momentum Vets had, though, eroded under a dominant quarter by the Sentinels.
They won the opening draw and got a goal from Brendan Benoit just 19 seconds into the period. From there, the Sentinels completely controlled possession. And while they didn't add to their lead right away, they didn't let Vets do anything. The 'Canes didn't sustain a possession for the first seven minutes of the period.
“It's draining,” Schweizer said. “The defense is gassed. They busted their tails and they played well, but my offense wasn't allowing them the rest they needed. Hats off to their defense, but I feel like we're a better offensive team than we showed today.”
Smithfield did add to its lead with 3:47 left in the half, getting another goal from Benoit off a transition pass from Chase Richard. Vets won the next draw and held possession for the rest of the half but couldn't convert on the opportunity. Hay missed two shots wide and Vets turned the ball over with 10 seconds left.
Smithfield went to the half with a two-goal lead that felt even bigger, but Vets still felt like it was within striking distance.
“We talked about the second half of the last game, and said 'We're in a good spot, being down 4-2 instead of 7-1 the previous game,'” Schweizer said. “We felt like if we ran our game plan, we'd be okay.”
It worked early. Dylan Robert made it 4-3 just a minute into the third quarter.
What followed was a make-or-break stretch, and unfortunately for Vets, it was the latter. The 'Canes held possession for nearly all of the next five minutes but couldn't score. Vets misfired on three shots and saw Smithfield goalie Mike Macera save three others. Vets also missed a golden opportunity. Cody Sullivan stole the ball from Macera when he was out of the box, and he carried the ball in with Macera and the defense scrambling. Sullivan took a shot when he got a look, but a defender deflected it.
“That was frustrating to not score in that stretch,” Schweizer said. “I feel like we were slow moving the ball. I told them after the third quarter we had to get the ball to the opposite side of the field, and we weren't just doing it. Hot day, we really only had five midis – we were dragging.”
When the Sentinels finally got the ball back, they pulled away. Louis Catarina scored with 5:12 left to make it 5-3. Bryan Kortick made it 6-3 soon after and then pushed it out to 7-3 with a goal early in the fourth quarter. The Sentinels added two more goals around the seven-minute mark to go up 9-3. Robert scored for Vets with 4:31 left, but it was too little, too late. The Sentinels got another goal from Catarina for the final margin.
Benoit led Smithfield with five goals, while Catarina and Kortick had two each. Nick Gerlach had one.
Vets was led by Robert's two goals. Hay and Goff had one each. In net, backup goalie Chris Defreitas filled in admirably for the injured Kyle Corvese, making 21 saves.
“I'm proud of Chris,” Schweizer said. “He stepped in no questions asked and did what we asked him to do.”
Smithfield advances to the finals, while Vets will look back with no regrets on its best season yet.
“It was a great season,” Schweizer said. “It's always disappointing to fall short, but I'm proud of them. You come in against a one seed that hasn't lost in three years – I hate to settle but if we're going to go out, I'd like to see us go out battling like we did today. I'm proud of the 10-win season, and we only lost to the top three teams. These seniors and captains have a lot to be proud of.”