By Jim Sullivan
---- — When midfielder Sam Francis went down with a torn ACL during the Thanksgiving football game against Amesbury last year, the Newburyport lacrosse team knew it was going to have some very big shoes to fill. But currently sitting at 5-1 after beating Manchester Essex 19-3 at home yesterday, things are looking good for the Clippers.
“The kids can do it, they can get the job done,” Francis says of his team. “The kids were all aware that I couldn’t play, but I told him that’s not a problem. The kids, they’re talented. They’re getting experience. We’ve got athletes out there and they’re doing their jobs.”
Indeed Port’s only loss came in an 11-7 non-league away game against Marblehead last Sunday. Along the way, they have gone 1-0 in the CAL Division 1, and have picked up wins against Division 2’s Georgetown, Ipswich and Manchester Essex.
“Marblehead was good,” says Francis. “They are just big, good athletes and it was a test. We played them well. But you’ve got to win a game against a good team.”
As far as the Clippers see it, the key to beating those big teams (and everyone else) will be in their numbers 26, 27, 28 in the midfield led by senior Tyler Matses, junior, Jared Healey and sophomore JJ Bajako.
“Last year our midfield was strong with Sam,” Matses says of Francis. “But now that Sam is out, it’s been up to (attackers) Mike Shay, Matt Kelleher and Nick Federico. And they stepped it up. It’s all been a team effort, no individual effort, really.”
And as Matses stresses team effort, Francis stresses the co-captain’s leadership skills.
“I knew he could lead the kids,” Francis says of Matses. “I knew he was one of the best kids on the team, if not the league. I know that JJ can do it. I watched him play last year as a freshman a little bit. And I was kind of looking for that third one and Jared stepped up and took the spot.”
Healey has had the biggest transition to make moving up from defensive mid to midfield proper but he likes the new altitude.
“It’s sort of a big change,” Healey admits of moving to the mid. “Because I’m usually not really working the plays. I’m just bringing the ball down and tossing it to (Matses and Bajako). It’s a little bit different, you know. It’s giving me a new perspective.”
New kid on the first line, Bajako has been looking to his elders for guidance.
“Being new, it’s a little bit difficult,” says Bajako, who came up from the junior varsity squad last year. “I just kind of have to go play-by-play. Look to Tyler, he has a lot of experience.”
Matses has been impressed by what he has seen from his squad so far and has high expectations.
“I think if we (continue to) incorporate Mike Shay, Matt Kelleher, Nick Federico, and these two, we’ll be fine,” Matses says of Bajako and Healey. “If we continue our plays, continue to play as a team, I think that this is our season.”
The next big test for these Clippers will come in North Reading on Tuesday.
“Last year, North Reading bumped us out of the CAL title,” says Healey. “We have them next and we want to come back and get that. Hopefully we can change that this year.”
Once the Hornets are out of the way, the biggest game of the first half of the season will be at home on Friday, May 10.
“We’ve never beat Masco in program history and I think this is the year (as well),” says Matses. “They lost a lot of seniors and we only got stronger.”
“We play Masco soon,” Francis nods. “Hamilton-Wenham is always good. Swamscott and Austin Prep are good this year. We have some real tests coming up.”