By Mac Cerullo
---- — NEWBURYPORT – After earning a bye through the first round, the top-seeded Newburyport boys lacrosse team (15-1) will open its state tournament against No. 9 Austin Prep (12-7) in today’s quarterfinal matchup.
Having already beaten nearly every other team in the Division III North tournament field, including all of the teams on its side of the bracket, the Clippers figure to be a heavy favorite to reach the North Finals. But Newburyport coach Ed Gaudiano said he doesn’t expect an easy game against any of the remaining teams, and considering that it’s been nearly two weeks since the Clippers’ last played, he’s concerned rust could be a factor.
“My first hope is that we knock the rust off early because we’ve been sitting around since last Thursday,” Gaudiano said. “It’s been a while since we’ve been out there and the weather hasn’t cooperated. We’re looking to start off sharp at the beginning of the game.”
The last time Newburyport and Austin Prep saw each other, it was on a rainy Wednesday morning over April vacation when the Clippers couldn’t seem to do anything wrong. Newburyport overcome a sluggish first quarter and wound up running away from the Cougars to win 15-4.
In that game, junior Matt Kelleher had one of his best performances of the season with eight goals, junior Mike Shay had four goals, junior JJ Bajko had three goals and senior goaltender Dillon Guthro made 16 saves.
But on the flip side, the Cougars were playing without standout junior Bobo Carpenter, who scored four goals against Triton on Wednesday and is regarded as one of the top players in the Catholic Central League. The team was also still trying to find its identity on defense, as head coach Peter Smyth said that after the team lost several starters on defense from last year’s CCL champion team, including their goalie, it took a while for the new starters to settle in.
Smyth acknowledged that the last game wasn’t one of his team’s best efforts, but coming off a strong performance against Triton he feels confident about their chances.
“They put a pretty good whupping on us, but we’re ready to go,” Smyth said. “We want a rematch, we don’t think we played our best lacrosse that day. We had some injuries, so everybody should be healthy.”
Austin Prep is coming off a dramatic 11-10 win over Triton in which the Cougars took a 5-0 lead early and then barely hung on as the Vikings made a late fourth quarter push. In addition to Carpenter, the Cougars also got strong performances out of standout attackers Matt Morgan and Kevin Kiley, who Smyth said have been the team’s main offensive contributors from the start.
Gaudiano said he expects a much different game against Austin Prep than last time, but regardless of how much better Austin Prep plays, the key for his team will be matching the Cougars’ physicality, maintaining possession and capitalizing on their chances.
“They were physical so we have to be ready for that,” he said. “And they’re a real good ground ball team, so we’re going to have to keep our possessions.”
The game will take place this afternoon at War Memorial Stadium behind the high school starting at 2 p.m.
Division III North Quarterfinals
No. 1 Newburyport vs. No. 9 Austin Prep
Newburyport High School, 2 p.m.