By Dan Guttenplan
---- — NEWBURYPORT — The Newburyport boys lacrosse team needed some good news yesterday less than a week after losing Tyler Matses and J.J. Bajko to what will likely be season-ending injuries.
That news came in the form of a 13-12 overtime victory over defending Cape Ann League Division 2 champion North Reading (13-5). The Clippers (9-3) re-established momentum in a surprising season that has been plagued by devastating injuries since the beginning.
Matt Kelleher netted the game-winning goal 54 seconds into overtime to seal the win. Michael Shay gave the Clippers a chance to play an extra period by scoring the game-tying goal with 30 seconds left in regulation. Kelleher’s victory-clinching goal in sudden-death overtime also gave Newburyport its first lead of the day.
The victory marked Newburyport’s second overtime defeat of North Reading this season. The Clippers also posted an 11-10 victory against the Hornets April 30.
“We’re pretty evenly matched,” Newburyport coach Ed Gaudiano said. “We were never leading in that game. We were always giving a goal or two lead, and we pulled it out.”
Kelleher led the Clippers with five goals and an assist. Nick Federico added three goals and an assist. Shay had two goals and two assists. Brendan Barraclough added two goals. Jared Healey scored one. Goalie Dillon Guthro made six saves, and Trevor Bradbury was the lynchpin of the defense.
With three games remaining in their season, the Clippers are a surprise contender for a CAL Division 1 title, given the team’s injury situation. The team’s best returning player, Sam Francis, suffered a torn ACL during the Thanksgiving football game, wiping out his senior lacrosse season. The team’s next most experienced player, Matses, broke his hand during a 14-6 loss to Masconomet Friday. His linemate, Bajko, broke his collarbone in the same game.
“That’s two-thirds of our first middie line, gone in one game,” Gaudiano said. “We back those guys up with a pretty good defense, but we’ve lost a lot of players. At the beginning of the year, I thought we’d be in pretty good shape even without (Francis). Who knows what would have been happened if we had him? He was our best player last year.”
Shay and Kelleher, both sophomores, seem capable of offsetting some of the sting from the injuries due to their improved play. Yesterday, they certainly delivered when it counted.
“We have some young players who can step up when they need to,” Gaudiano said. “I think we still have enough talent to win some games down the stretch.”