After a long break, Bellevue will finally hit the field again this Friday as they begin their defense of last year's state title. The Wolverines will take on Ballard, a team averaging a gaudy 15.4 goals per game on their way to an dazzling 17-1 record.
Bellevue has been impressive in its own right, building a 13-3 record with two of those losses coming in highly competitive games against the top two teams in the state of Texas. The Wolverines will have to find a way to quickly regain their form after a quirk in their schedule led to a long break between their last game - played April 26th against Mercer Island - and the start of the playoffs.
Bellevue will rely on a strong group of defenders to try and shut down the high powered Ballard offense. Led by senior Michael Moran and junior Chase Overton, the defense has been stout all year, holding opponents to single digit goals in every game thus far. At the other end of the field, the Wolverines will look to jump start an offense that has been productive all year, but scored a season low 4 goals in their last game against Mercer Island.
The winner of the Bellevue/Ballard game will advance to the semi-finals to take on the winner of the Stanwood vs. Juanita game. On the other side of the bracket, the two islands - Mercer and Bainbridge - appear to be on a collision course toward a semi-final matchup of their own. Finals will be played Saturday May 27th at the Starfire complex in Tukwila.
The second game of the Texas trip was a much anticipated matchup against Highland Park, a team boasting 7 division one commits for lacrosse and a couple of members of the HP football team that won the Texas 5A state football championship team who are headed off to play college football. It was a stormy afternoon bringing dark clouds and thundershowers, but there was a break in the weather come game time and the rains subsided, giving way to a comfortable game time temperature of around 72 degrees.
Highland Park threw the first punch, when a Scots midfielder beat his defender near the sideline, drew a slide and found the open man for the score. In fact, HP would throw the first four punches, jumping out to a 4-0 lead with some crisp passing and accurate finishes around the cage. After the sluggish start, Bellevue got back up off the mat in the second quarter. Trailing 5-1, Joe Albrecht fought through the defense and uncorked a bouncer that found the net, his second goal of the game. Carson Lombardi then came through with a dodge and a rip, and it was 5-3.
Meanwhile, on the defensive end, Bellevue settled in and started making things difficult for the Scots. Cutters were no longer running free, and the Bellevue d-poles were hounding HP ball carriers. Adding to the momentum was Brennan Moloney's performance at the face-off X. Going up against one of the top FOGO's in the country, Moloney was undaunted, as he continued to win the majority of the draws and give the Wolverines possessions.
Bellevue's fourth goal came from Tommy Heed maneuvering around from X and finishing, and when Lombardi fired another lefty laser into the net, the Wolverines had come all the way back to tie the game. That's the way the half would end, as Bellevue headed to the locker room with the momentum squarely on their side.
That momentum would continue into the second half, as Lombardi dodged from the wing, getting underneath his defender and zipping one past the goalie to give the Wolverines the lead. Bellevue was feeling it. They were winning faceoffs, winning ground balls, and generating looks on offense. Just when they looked as though they might take a two goal lead, HP stiffened and turned back Bellevue's man-up opportunity, converting it into a transition goal at the other end to bring the game even once again.
HP had stopped the bleeding, and they were playing with a sense of urgency. The Scots surged ahead with two more goals in the 3rd quarter, and added another one early in the 4th to lead by three. Once again, Bellevue battled back. Steel Mylroie started the rally with a low to high laser from the top of the box, but the Wolverines were running out of time. With the clock winding down, Lombardi knifed through the defense one more time and scored again to pull the Wolverines within a goal, but after winning the final faceoff, Moloney's long distance shot was deflected and fell harmlessly to the turf, leaving the Wolverines on the losing end by a single goal.
For the second time in two games, Bellevue had fought valiantly against an elite opponent, coming up just a bit short on the final tally. The loss was disappointing, but there was nothing for the Wolverines to hang their heads about, as they had gone toe-to-toe with arguably the best team in Texas and one of the better teams in the country. The performances from Lombardi (4 goals, 4 ground balls) and Moloney (60% face-off wins against a strong opponent) were particularly impressive, as was the play of the entire defense after a shaky start. Bellevue had dropped the first two games of the trip, but there were positives to take from each of the games, and they had one more chance to get a "W" before leaving the state.
Bellevue spent their spring break in the Dallas area this year, playing three games in four days against the best the state of Texas had to offer. They opened the trip with a tough matching up, facing the defending Texas state champion Jesuit Rangers less than 24 hours after they touched down at DFW the night before. Both teams were fired up for the interstate matchup, and you could feel the excitement and anticipation as the clock wound down toward the opening faceoff.
The game started with some shaky play on both sides, as the teams fought some early game jitters. After a couple of failed possessions for each team, Bellevue got on the board first when Paul Johnson cranked one in from just above goal line extended to give the Wolverines the early lead. The back and forth play continued through most of the quarter, and as the offenses struggled a little to find a rhythm. Late in the quarter, Bellevue called time out, and coming out of the TO, Cam McMahon took in a feed from Johnson and rang one off the pipe. The rebound fell to the Rangers, triggering a fast break that ended with Jesuit firing one off the pipe at the opposite end. On a controversial call by the official, the Rangers were awarded the ball on the backup and a quick restart caught the Wolverines off guard, resulting in a goal with under 10 seconds to go in the quarter that evened the score.
The second quarter belonged to the Rangers. They successfully drew slides and moved the ball with precision around the perimeter, finding open men and open shots. They went up 4-1, before an eventful clear gave Bellevue a two man advantage with two Rangers in the box. Bellevue was unable to capitalize on the penalty, but seconds after the penalties were released, Johnson squeezed through a gap in the defense again and pulled Bellevue within a goal at 4-2. Jesuit stretched the lead to 5-2 on another well executed play that led to an open rip, and that's how things stood at the half.
It was a gorgeous day, especially by Seattle standards, but that meant temperatures up around 80 degrees - about 25-30 degrees warmer than the Wolverines were accustomed to thus far in the year. As Jesuit built their three goal lead, the heat bore down on Bellevue and there were concerns about fatigue for the Wolverines' entering the second half, especially given that the team was playing their first game without star midfielder Matt Marino who was injured just two days prior. Those concerns were put to rest in Q3, as the Wolverines played with tenacity, clawing their way back into the game.
It started with another low angle shot from Johnson as he stung the upper 90 fading away from the cage. That closed the gap to two goals. After a strong defensive stand, Bellevue scored again. This time it was McMahon off of a feed from Tom Heed, and the Wolverines were within one. Bellevue kept up the stellar defensive play the rest of the quarter, but couldn't quite get over the hump with the game tying goal and the quarter ended with the Rangers clinging to a one goal lead.
The Rangers won the Q4 faceoff and a long possession ensued before a Jesuit attackman got underneath the defense and scored, narrowly avoiding a crease violation. After a fantastic kick-save from the Ranger's goalie, Jesuit capped off another methodical possession with a goal to stretch the lead to 7-4. Bellevue continued to battle, though, and on the ensuing faceoff, Quinn Sullivan snatched a loose ball out of mid air and trucked a Ranger defender on his way into the box, snapping his stick in half and sending him hurtling to the turf. A few passes later, McMahon snuck around from the behind the cage and somehow squeaked in the shot from a nearly impossible angle to make it 7-5. After a great defense play by Michael Moran forced a Ranger turnover, Justin Angelel found Johnson on the back pipe and Paul beat the goalie low to pull the Wolverines back within one midway through the final quarter.
Unfortunately, that was as close as Bellevue would get. With a flag down after yet another questionable call, the Rangers found a shooter open on the wing and he rifled one in to extend the lead. Then after a quick restart, Jesuit took advantage of some confusion on the part of the Bellevue defense and poured another one in from point blank range, making it a 3 goal lead with just minutes to go. Johnson would get one more goal to cap a spectacular 5 goal performance, but it was too little too late, as Bellevue fell 9-7 to the defending Texas state champs.
The Wolverines entered the NW Invitational looking to protect their unblemished record against three traditionally tough out of state opponents. The first game was a rematch of a clash two years ago in Las Vegas with the Panthers of Palo Verde. That game featured a furious 4th quarter comeback by the Wolverines that led them to a hard fought victory. This year's game wasn't quite so taxing, as Bellevue rode a second quarter scoring outburst to build a 6-1 lead and never looked back. The Wolverine attackmen led the way, with 4 players - Cam McMahon, Paul Johnson, Tom Heed and Justin Backer - scoring two or more goals each. Once again, Brennan Moloney was sensational at the faceoff X, winning all but one of the 25 draws in the game.
Game two featured the annual matchup against the Pacers of Lakeridge, who made the trip up I-5 from Portland, OR. This one was close early on. The Pacers struck first, holding 1-0 and 2-1 leads before Bellevue pulled ahead 3-2 on sweet low-to-high shot from junior Tommy Heed. The score would stay that way for the rest of the quarter and almost the entire 2nd quarter as well, with lots of end to end action but no goals to show for it. Finally, with less than 30 seconds to go in the half, Carson Lombardi broke the stalemate with one of his patented lefty sidewinders and the Wolverines went up by two. Just seconds later, after Brennan Moloney emerged with another face off win, Lombardi struck again, slicing between defenders to the front of the cage for his second goal in a 12 second span. Lombardi's back-to-back goals gave Bellevue a more comfortable 5-2 lead after a hard fought first half.
The second half began with Lakeridge getting on the board first, just as they had to start the game, but Bellevue answered quickly. This time it was Paul Johnson curling off of a pick and stinging the top right corner to regain the three goal cushion. Moments later, it was Johnson again, this time on a break away following an effective ride from the Bellevue attack that forced a turnover in the Pacer end of the field. Johnson scooped up the loose ball and raced to the cage with only the goalie to beat, firing it past him from point blank range. The Wolverines began to pull away from there, putting up another three goals while shutting down the Lakeridge offense. Once again, the Bellevue defense was stout, holding their opponent to 3 goals or less for the fourth time in the last five games. Lombardi and Johnson led the team, both posting hat tricks while Michael Moran gobbled up four ground balls to lead in that category. Cabe Edelhertz had another solid day in the cage, registering 6 saves against only 3 goals.
The final game of the weekend came against a familiar foe from north of the border, the Claremont Spartans. Bellevue and Claremont have faced each other twice a year for the past several years - once at the Space Needle shootout and once at the NW Invitational. The Spartans bested Bellevue in the Championship of the Space Needle Shootout last December, winning by a single goal, so the Wolverines entered the game thinking payback.
Bellevue got off to a hot start as Justin Angelel and Matt Marino dodged down the right and left alleys respectively and uncorked runners that found the net, giving Bellevue a quick 2-0 lead. Claremont got one back on a fast break goal, and then Bellevue really got rolling. Tom Heed reeled off back to back goals to make it 4-1, and then Paul Johnson stung the corner from the wing, as Bellevue executed their man-up set to perfection. Heed then fed Marino cutting to the cage, and in the blink of an eye, it was a 6-1 advantage for the Wolverines.
That's how the quarter would end, but Bellevue kept their foot on the gas in the second quarter. After a man-up goal from Joe Albrecht, Claremont finally got on the board again to make it 7-2, but by now the Wolverine offense was clicking. Johnson added a second goal, and then with time winding down in the quarter, Bellevue turned the Spartans over near midfield and Heed tracked down the loose ball. He quickly fed Angelel steaming toward the cage and the senior middie drove one past the goalie with less than 10 seconds left in the half, capping a dominant first half for the Wolverines.
Bellevue continued their stellar play on defense, riding hard and pressuring the Spartan ball carriers all game long. Junior defender Jack Heed and Sophomore midfielder Quinn Sullivan in particular were all over the field, leading the team with 5 ground balls each. Adding to the Wolverine cause was another standout performance from Brennan Moloney, winning 17 of 22 faceoffs to give Bellevue the edge in possessions.
Claremont has a proud lacrosse tradition and they weren't about to pack it in at halftime. The Spartans came out fighting in Q3, holding Bellevue scoreless while adding two goals of their own to close the gap to 9-4, but senior Carson Lombardi got the Wolverine offense revved up again in the 4th quarter. Lombardi gathered a pass on the wing in early in the quarter and threw a nice face dodge to free himself up for a goal. Moments later Bellevue jarred the ball loose on the ride, and Lombardi made a one handed pick-up of the loose ball and on a dead run, rifled one into the low left corner. Finally, just seconds later, Lombardi completed the hat trick with a dodge from the wing and the lead was back up to nine goals. Lombardi would add one more before the final horn, giving him a prolific four goal quarter that put the exclamation point on the tournament for Bellevue.
The win capped an impressive weekend for the Wolverines who continue to show a balanced attack on offense and stifling play from their defense. Bellevue climbed to #5 in the west in the Under Armour / Inside Lacrosse regional rankings last week, and may very well move up even further after the performance over the past few days. Up next for the Wolverines are games on Tuesday and Thursday this week before heading to Texas on Friday they'll take on three teams from greater Dallas area over spring break.