By Dan Guttenplan
---- — NEWBURYPORT — One after another, shots peppered Newburyport boys lacrosse goalie Dillon Guthro during the first quarter of last night’s state-tournament game against Archbishop Williams.
The fifth-seeded Clippers (13-4) appeared overmatched by the 12th-seeded Archies (12-8) on their home field as the visitors threatened to make it a lopsided decision from the opening whistle.
Somehow, Guthro kept the Clippers in the game through that opening period, as Archbishop Williams could muster just a 3-1 advantage. Then, in a microcosm of the Newburyport season, the Clippers fought back against difficult odds and made it interesting.
The Clippers eventually fell 8-7 after generating a flurry of offensive chances in an attempt to tie the game over the final seven minutes. Archbishop Williams will play the winner of today’s matchup between fourth-seeded Canton and 20th-seed Watertown in the quarterfinals of the Division 3 East tournament.
“We just kept on going after them,” Newburyport coach Ed Gaudiano said. “We ended up shooting ourselves in the foot a little bit. It was the second game in a row we came out flat. It felt like we were playing catch-up all game.”
Newburyport’s 3-1 deficit after the first quarter seemed to be as much the result of Archbishop Williams’ strong play as the Clippers’ slow start. Despite being the lower seed, the Archies flashed more talent in terms of stick skills, which is sometimes the case in state tournament play when teams from all over the state are seeded based on their records against local teams even though lacrosse is more prominent in certain pockets of the state. On top of that, the Clippers were devastated by injuries this season, and they played both of their tournament games without the services of Sam Francis, Tyler Matses and Nick Mombello — three key players from last year’s team.
“As good as we could have been with our guys, it gave us another mindset,” Guthro said. “We knew we didn’t have Sam Francis, Ty Matses and Nick Mombello, so everybody else had to step up. The mindset was to never give up, to keep fighting.”
Of course, when a team’s depth is tested by injuries, it becomes easier to designate more defensive attention to the top healthy players. Archbishop Williams centered its defensive game plan around Newburyport sophomore attackman Mike Shay, which made sense considering the Clipper scored nine goals in Newburyport’s 16-12 victory over Norwell in the tournament-opener Tuesday.
At least one Archie defender shadowed Shay all game, leaving him very few opportunities to touch the ball with the exception of dead-ball situations. Shay was held to one goal, giving him 10 for the postseason. Fellow sophomore Matt Kelleher attempted to fill the scoring void, and was successful at first. He scored three goals in the first half, when the Clippers closed the Archie lead to 5-4.
Kelleher then found Archie defenders coming at him in droves in the second half, and he was limited to one second-half goal.
Archbishop Williams had what seemed like a comfortable two-goal lead — if there is such a thing in lacrosse — midway through the fourth quarter when Shay finally got on the board with 7:05 remaining, closing the lead to 8-7. Newburyport ramped up the pressure in its offensive zone over the next six minutes. Shay had the best scoring chance with three minutes remaining when he tip-toed along the crease from behind the goal, only to see his right-handed shot bounce off the nearside pipe.
“We seemed to be working hard on the offensive end all game, and then we’d give up quick goals,” Gaudiano said. “They’d come down and get a quick one, and then we’d spend five minutes in their end trying to match it.”
Newburyport certainly has building blocks for the future with Shay and Kelleher set to return for two more years. Guthro and defenseman Drew Bourdeau — both juniors — can certainly build on their promising performances in yesterday’s game. Several seniors like Francis, Mombello, Robert Cataldo, Seb Hardin, Matses and Alex Buckley, among others, certainly left their mark on a program that has logged a record of 58-14 over the last four seasons.
“We went into the season without Sam Francis, and we took a rash of injuries at midseason,” Gaudiano said. “To their credit, they got this far. It’s tough on the seniors. But that’s how the tournament goes. You win one, and it only gets more disappointing. It’s tough because this was a winnable game, but the bounces didn’t go our way.”