The Warwick Vets boys’ lacrosse team knew what it was getting into when it visited Coventry on Thursday in the Division III quarterfinals.
Unfortunately, it didn’t end up making a difference. After the Oakers had beaten Vets twice in the final 10 days of the regular season, they made it three times with an intense 7-6 victory over the ’Canes.
Coventry advanced to take on top-seeded Smithfield in the semifinals, while Vets’ season came to a close. But head coach Fred Schweizer had no complaints about the way his team competed all season long, Thursday included.
“We battled,” Schweizer said. “That’s what I was just telling them. Not just today, but the entire season. The coaching staff had no idea what to expect, and they worked hard and stepped up. They made the playoffs, they took it down to the wire today against a very tough Coventry team.”
The ’Canes fought back from a 5-2 halftime deficit to tie the game at five after three quarters, and they tied the game again in the fourth after falling behind 6-5 midway through.
Yet, the Oakers just kept coming. With 24.9 seconds remaining in regulation, Stryker Blue fired home a shot from the right side, past Vets goalie Kyle Corvese, for the game-winner.
Vets tried to recover, and it won the ensuing draw, but it never mounted a serious charge and failed to get a potential game-tying shot off before the final buzzer sounded.
“My boys came back and gave them a run for it,” Schweizer said. “I’m proud of where we ended. They exceeded my expectations.”
The ’Canes took an early 2-0 lead thanks to goals from Cody Sullivan and Will Hay in the first five minutes of play, but Coventry quickly found its footing.
It got two goals in a 36-second span from standout attackman Ethan Tryhubczak, quickly erasing the deficit.
“Number 13, he’s a player,” Schweizer said, referring to Tryhubczak.
Armed with the momentum, the Oakers took their first lead with 6:30 to play in the half, getting a goal from Zachary Allen on a long-range shot on the left side.
They made it 4-2 on a low shot from Caleb Carr with 2:34 to play, and they then took the three-goal lead when Tryhubczak scored his third goal of the game on another shot from distance.
“We learned a little bit too late what we needed to do with their middies, in terms of cutting off their hands,” Schweizer said. “They’re good shooters, and we just weren’t able to slide quickly enough to shut down their shooting hands.”
In the second half, the ’Canes adjusted.
While consistently denying shot attempts by the Oakers, Vets began to mount its comeback. It got a goal from Nathan Brotman not even three minutes into the third quarter, on a perfect pass from Sullivan, and then brought the deficit to one when Brotman scored again on another assist from Sullivan with 6:26 to play in the third.
Less than two minutes later, the ’Canes got the equalizer from Brotman when he scored his third goal of the game on a spin move just to the left of Coventry goalie Nick Mowry.
“We figured it out about a quarter too late,” Schweizer said. “But we really battled back.”
The score stayed tied into the fourth quarter as the Vets defense continued to be stingy. With 5:29 to play in the game, Coventry went back on top on a goal from Allen, breaking a stretch of 20 minutes and 14 seconds of game time without a single goal.
Suddenly down a goal again, Vets took a timeout to regroup. Forty-three seconds out of the break, the ’Canes came back again.
Hay scooped up the ball in the defensive end and raced with it all the way into Coventry’s zone. With a defender in his face, he fired a low, bouncing shot that evaded Mowry and tied the score at six.
“We felt like we had a good draw and it was going to be a good game,” Schweizer said. “We knew it was going to be a battle because it had been the previous two games. It was definitely fun.”
From that point on, both teams desperately searched for the game-winner. Vets got shots from Sullivan and Brotman, both of which were denied, before Blue slipped one past Corvese to win the game.
It was a tough loss to take, especially against a team that the ’Canes nearly beat twice during the regular season. Coventry won their regular season meetings 8-7 – in overtime – and 5-3.
Those two games were the difference between the No. 5 seed – which Vets was after a 5-8 regular season – and the No. 4 seed, which Coventry was after finishing 7-6.
Yet, the ’Canes could take solace knowing that they didn’t hold anything back.
“Making the playoffs, five seed, they battled. They learned quickly and they worked hard,” Schweizer said. “This is the fruit of that labor. Even just now, they’re like, ‘We’re ready for next season.’”
Vets will only graduate two seniors – Dan Pickering and Kevin Shepherd – and will also lose junior Diego Martinez, who is a foreign exchange student.
And they’ll be missed.
“Leadership,” Schweizer said. “Dan is a captain and Kevin came back and ran LSM. Everyday, they’ve helped the young kids. They’re coaching players. They don’t just play. They help the other guys out. I’m proud of the seniors. This is their last game. But we’ve got a lot to build on, and a lot of experience coming back.”