TEWKSBURY — If ever a team didn’t want to season come to an end, it would have to be the Wilmington High Boys Lacrosse team.
Despite falling short of qualifying for the state tournament under the direction of first-year head coach Zach McDannell, the Wildcats played some of their best lacrosse of the season down the stretch, including in their season finale against arch rival Tewksbury on Tuesday afternoon.
While the game ended in a 9-8 overtime loss to the Redmen, McDannell felt like his team played very well as the season comes to a close.
“It was evenly played all the way through, really just a great game by both teams,” McDannell said. “We would have loved to pull it out for our seniors, but of course Tewksbury wanted the same thing and they were able to get the win.”
The Wildcats were led on offense by senior attack Andrew Sullivan as well as freshman midfielder Gavin Erickson, who had two goals apiece. Senior attack Ben Wright, senior midfielder Connor Benoit, junior midfielder Christian Robarge and junior attack Zach Kincaid all had one goal each, but it was not quite enough to top the Redmen, who overcame an 8-6 fourth quarter deficit to tie the game at 8-8 with just over a minute and a half to go before winning in overtime.
“I felt like defensively, we played a great game,” McDannell said. “I have always felt that it you could hold an opponent under ten goals, you should have a chance to win, and we were able to do that because our defense played so well, but we just couldn’t score enough to get the win.
“Their goalie (Ryan Day) was very strong, and our guys did a great job of moving the ball around to beat him a few times, but he was very good. He was one of the best we have seen this season.”
McDannell was especially impressed with the play of senior defender Kyle Kenyon and junior defender Thomas Grecco.
“Each of them have a niche and have played so well for us all season,” McDannell said. “Kyle is such a strong voice on the team and is a real leader out there defensively for us, and Thomas is not afraid to bring the ball all the way up the field on his own on a break out.”
The Wildcats also got an outstanding effort in goal from senior goalie Ryan Murphy.
“Ryan played great today,” McDannell said. “He made some huge stops and really did a great job throughout the game.”
In their previous game against Lowell last Friday night, the Wildcats had also gone to overtime, but this time with much different results, as they pulled out a 16-15 triple overtime victory on the road against their non-league rivals.
Kincaid scored the game winner early in the third overtime on a great set up from Erickson, but it was the defense who actually started the play, making a clear and getting the ball up to Robarge in the midfield.
Robarge brought the ball up towards the offensive end before it was knocked away and that is where Erickson scooped it up and went on a fast break before flipping it off to Kincaid rifled a shot past the stunned Lowell goalie.
“Zach has a rocket and he just found the open space and fired it,” McDannell said. “He had a clear shot and he made a great play. It was a great feeling to see it go in.”
The 1-1 split gave the Wildcats a 5-11 overall record. It would be hard to dispute that the Lowell thriller was the biggest win of the year for the Wildcats.
“I think it was,” McDannell said. “After everything we have been through this season, going through that gauntlet of teams on our schedule and just trying to make the second half of our season better than the first. To come into Lowell on a Friday night and do what these kids did was amazing and was a real testament to their hard work and dedication to the team.”
Kincaid helped to lead the Wildcats offense to the win with three goals, including his game winner, while other offensive leaders included Wright with five goals, Erickson with three goals, Robarge and Connor Benoit with two goals each and Sullivan with one.
While 5-11 may not have been the record the Wildcats were looking for at the start of the season, McDannell felt like the way his team went about achieving that record says more about them than the win-loss column.
The Wildcats went 2-3 in the last five games of the season, with two of their losses in that stretch coming by scores of 13-9 to Watertown and then to the Redmen.
And while the Wildcats will lose ten seniors off of this year’s squad, McDannell feels like they have left a legacy behind for the younger players to follow.
“With a new coach there is a change in the culture which the kids had to adjust to,” McDannell said. “What I tried to tell the seniors was to leave their mark on the younger players. Leave a lasting impression with them.”
Win or lose, McDannell feels like his seniors definitely did that. Ben Wright, Andrew Sullivan, Nolan Fitzgerald, Kyle Kenyon, Jared Homola, Adam Bishop, Connor Benoit, Alan Morris, Ryan Murphy and Nicholas Leighton will all be sorely missed, but not forgotten.
“Our younger guys learned a lot from them,” McDannell said. “They were a great example of how to play the game and a great example of how we want the program to grow. I don’t know how we will do next year, but I know we will play with class and we will play lacrosse the way it was meant to be played.”