State Championship games are always special. When you play at Bellevue, you expect to be in these games, but that doesn't make it any less so. Mix in an 80+ degree day and a team on the other side of the field wearing maroon and white, and quite frankly, it just doesn't get any better.
(NOTE: This might be a good time to get a snack or a cup of coffee. This is my last game recap, and it’s going to be a long one.)
This was the last chapter in what had been a successful yet tumultuous season for Bellevue. For the most part, the Wolverines had lived up to the lofty pre-season expectations, but injuries to one of their starting midfielders and their starting FOGO, in addition to late season changes on the coaching staff, had made the road a bit more rocky. Now, as they entered the final game at Starfire, they had one more hill to climb as they faced the only team in the state to hand them defeat, their rival Mercer Island.
The start to the game was eerily similar to the start of the regular season game in late April. Bellevue won possession off the opening faceoff and carried into the offensive end, as MI packed in the defense, settling into their zone. Bellevue passed the ball around, probing the defense, and generated a few good looks, but Mercer Island turned them back and took the ball the other way. They gradually worked their way into their offensive set, immediately signaling their intent to play a methodical, deliberate style. After slowly working the ball around, they inverted one of their midfielders who took the ball behind the cage. Dodging from X he ripped off a shot before the slide could arrive and it snuck just inside the near pipe for a 1-0 lead for the Islanders.
MI won the next faceoff, and held the ball for nearly two full minutes before taking another shot. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, they fed the crease, but the behind the back shot was turned away by Cabe Edelhertz and retrieved inside the crease, giving Bellevue possession. Bellevue failed to score and MI killed another 1:15 on the next possession before taking a shot, at times standing behind the cage with the sense of urgency typically only seen at your local DMV. Their strategy was clear – pack in the zone on defense, slow things to a snails pace on offense and shorten the game as much as possible.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the field, the Islander goalie was doing everything in his power to preserve MI’s one goal lead, making save after save, some in spectacular fashion. As the quarter wound down, Bellevue’s Justin Angelel took a lefty shot that was turned back with a kick save. As Mercer Island scooped up the loose ball and began to initiate transition, junior Joe Albrecht sold out, launching himself into the air and landing a check on the Islander ball carrier that jarred the ball loose and into a teammates’ cross. Ultimately, Bellevue was unable to capitalize in the final seconds, as Tom Heed’s shot from near the crease failed to hit paydirt, but the message had been sent. There would be no quit in the Wolverines on this day, and if the Islanders wanted to emerge victorious, they were going to have to match the intensity of the Blue and Gold on every play.
The second quarter started as ominously as the first, with Mercer Island drawing a penalty on the faceoff, giving them a man advantage. Bellevue killed the penalty, but seconds later MI took advantage of the aggressive defense from the Wolverines, slipping underneath a defender and slinging one in before the slide could arrive. 2-0 Islanders.
Once again, Bellevue found itself down to the Islanders, a team content to sit in their zone and milk the clock. It wasn’t the start anyone on the Bellevue side of the field was hoping for, but for the Islanders, the game was unfolding exactly as they had planned. Wolverine fans began to flashback to the regular season game, a low scoring affair filled with offensive futility and frustration, hoping they weren’t in for a repeat performance.
That’s when it all started to change. The Wolverines decided to mix things up at the faceoff X and inserted sophomore Shane Johnson. After a scrum on the draw, Bellevue emerged with the ball, preventing another clock killing possession from the Islanders. Bellevue cycled the ball a time or two, and then ran one of their set plays designed to get Paul Johnson a shot from the wing. But the Islanders sniffed it out immediately. They jumped Johnson as he curled around the pick, smothering him with a double team. What they weren’t ready for was Johnson’s response. Fighting through the double team, the All Kingco attackman rolled back to his left and got his hands free, then rifled one into the top left corner to crack the seal for Bellevue and make it a one goal game. A huge play at a critical time, giving Bellevue the boost they needed.
Following the goal, Shane Johnson trotted back out onto the field and delivered another faceoff win for Bellevue, with a major assist from Quinn Sullivan, who was an animal all day with his faceoff wing play. Led by Johnson, the Wolverine faceoff unit would help turn the tide of the game, winning 9 of 17 faceoffs despite losing their standout FOGO Brennan Moloney to injury a week prior. After gaining possession, Cameron McMahon delivered the play of the night, maybe the play of the season. Cutting across the front of the crease from left to right, McMahon gathered in a feed from Tom Heed and running out of angle on the cage, went behind the back to sting the top left corner and pull the Wolverines even at 2-2. It was a goal for the ages, one that will be remembered for years, but McMahon was just getting started.
On the Wolverine’s next possession, Albrecht fired a shot from the outside that ricocheted off of a defender and went high into the air. Carson Lombardi snatched the rebound and saw McMahon curling around from behind the cage. Lombardi hit him in stride and McMahon beat the goalie again, absorbing a big hit along the way. The Wolverines had the lead and momentum was starting to build.
The following faceoff led to another ground ball battle, and another penalty against Bellevue, but the physical play from the Wolverines was taking its toll on the Islanders. Over the course of the game, Bellevue would assert its will on the ground, dominating the Islanders 24-13 on ground balls, with Sullivan snatching up five GB’s to lead the way.
Once again, the defense stiffened and killed the penalty. This time, with a one-goal lead, it was Bellevue’s turn to slow things down a bit and take their time. After probing the defense methodically, Albrecht threw a laser of a feed to McMahon, who was curling around the cage from X. He caught and finished again to register the hat trick in a span of just four minutes, giving Bellevue a two-goal advantage 4-2.
Now things were really rolling. MI would win the next faceoff, but after a timeout, Jack Heed de-possessed his man with a brilliant trail check that sent the ball flying into the stick of Michael Kihanya. The Wolverines took possession, and once again started surveying the defense to find a crack. The Islanders, after giving up three in a row to McMahon tightened up their zone even more. That opened up things up on the perimeter, and the Wolverines took advantage, as Angelel found some space just inside the top of the box. The senior captain took in a feed from Paul Johnson and rifled one into the top right corner to extend Bellevue’s lead to 5-2.
Bellevue won possession on the ensuing faceoff, and once again, the Islander’s packed in defense worked to the Wolverine’s advantage, as Bellevue burned 90 of the last 120 seconds in the half before Heed fed McMahon for a step down shot that ripped past the Islander goalie, putting a punctuation mark on a 6 goal run to close the half.
The Wolverines went into the break feeling pretty good about themselves, having solved the Islander zone and put up two more goals by halftime than they did the entire game during the regular season. They knew they had to play a full game, though, and that point was driven home on the Islander’s second possession of the 3rd quarter when an MI midfielder dodged from the top and spun through a double team before slipping one inside the pipe to draw MI within three. It was a quick reminder that the game was far from over, and the Wolverines took it to heart.
On the ensuing faceoff, the Islanders were awarded possession on a push call, but the Bellevue defenders harassed MI into a sloppy pass that Daniel Pratt swooped in and intercepted, racing the other direction with possession. Pratt moved the ball ahead to Heed, who fed Sullivan trailing the play on a delayed break and he delivered a bounce shot that tucked in just below the cross bar as the goalie fell to his knees. Just like that, the Wolverines were back up by four.
On a near carbon copy of the previous faceoff, Bellevue forced another MI turnover that was scooped up by Pratt and carried into the offensive end once again. This time it was Steele Mylroie getting into the act with a silky toe drag in traffic and an overhand finish to make it 8-3 Wolverines.
The quarter would end with Bellevue holding a commanding five-goal lead, the prize squarely in sight. Just 12 minutes stood between them and another championship. Mercer Island tried desperately to get back in it, but goalie Cabe Edelhertz turned them back time after time. Edelhertz saved 8 of 12 shots on cage on the day, adding his name to the long list of stellar Wolverine performances. And while Mercer Island continued to fight, you knew it would be an uphill climb for the Islanders against a defense that had given up an average of just over 4 goals per game, and never once allowed double digit goals against.
Minutes into the quarter, the Islanders hopes took another blow when Albrecht set his feet on the right wing and laced a sidearm shot into the net to further extend the lead, and the game was all but over when McMahon roped in another one, this time off a feed from Angelel, to make it 10-3 Bellevue. It was the 5th of what would be 6 goals on the day for McMahon, an epic performance for the senior who saved his best for last, delivering big time in the most important game of his career.
The Wolverines would tack on a couple more from there to salt away the victory, an emphatic 12-4 win that washed away any of the bad taste that may have lingered in their mouths from the late season loss to the Islanders. The win not only secured another state championship for Bellevue, their 6th Title in 8 years, but it meant that Bellevue had beaten the best that 3A and 4A had to offer, having previously notched wins over all four semi-finalists at the 4A level.
The win put the capper on a great year for the 2017 version of Bellevue Lacrosse, and sent the senior class out on a winning note – a senior class that had been to three (and in the case of some, four) straight state championships – winning all but one. It was a fitting end to a year filled with adversity. On display was the balance and togetherness of the team that carried them through the challenging times, and the joy of accomplishing their goal was etched on the faces of every player in the post game celebration. In the famous words of Theodore Roosevelt, nothing worth having comes easy, and based on what I saw following the game Saturday afternoon, this was worth having.