The Saxons of Langley claimed the Liberty District championship hardware for the second year running with an 11-8 playoff finals victory on Friday, May 8, over Madison in boys’ lacrosse.
Despite the Saxons holding the lead right from their opening goal 38 seconds into the contest, the win did not seem secure until attacker Ryan Ningard capped an impressive performance with his fifth goal of the game, which put Langley up by three with only 46 seconds left in the contest.
This battle had a distinct "cliffhanger" feel throughout all but the closing moments despite the Saxons enjoying a lead of at least two goals for nearly 40 minutes — and by at least three goals for more than 12 minutes — in no small way due to the explosive potential of the Warhawks’ first-line strike force of Will Cybulski, Mike Hayden and Gordon Bailey, and their dangerous supporting cast.
In addition to Ningard’s five goals, Langley got a pair each from attacker Ethan Bailey and middie Alex Devlin and single strikes from middies Jeremy Kuney and Charlie Scharfen.
Attackman Hayden provided a hat-trick for Madison, which also had middie Kyle Headley scoring two to go with single goals from attackman Cybulski and middies Mike McCool and Matt Russiello.
The Saxons burst from the starting block to produce a three-goal run with little more than four minutes gone in the game. Devlin got the opener, followed by a Bailey shot from 14 yards that was set up by a turnover in the Warhawk attack area caused by longstickman Kas Semancik, who was the supplier for Bailey. Scharfen fired in from a sharp angle about a minute later for the early 3-0 Saxon lead.
But a battling Madison side was like white on the Langley rice until the very last minute of the game. Hayden delivered two unassisted goals in less than one minute just past the halfway point of the opening quarter to get the Warhawks within one goal of the Saxons.
A Ningard hat-trick expanded the Langley lead back to four. The last of the three goals came out of what first appeared to be just a half-chance that the Saxon attacker converted while off balance into a blast from about 15 yards to put the score at 6-2 at the end of the first quarter.
<b>THE WARHAWKS</b> had the edge during second period play when they outscored Langley 3-1 to close the gap to 7-5 by halftime. Headley stepped up with two goals while Hayden completed his hat-trick with yet another unassisted effort from close range. Devlin slotted the ball low past Madison goalie Ryan Cass after a Bailey pass intended for Saxon attacker Jack Lundeen caromed to the feet of Devlin at the doorstep of Cass’ cage.
The third quarter featured a goal for each team, with middie Kuney’s five-yard strike off of a Ningard pass answered a minute later by a McCool goal set up by a pass from fellow Warhawk middie Tommy Sampson. Soft Langley defending during the sequence invited the Madison scorer to take on Saxon goalie Galen Kuney without the distraction of opposing longstickmen.
The contest began to boil with about four minutes remaining in the third quarter when a series of body hits and hard checks going both ways seemed to escalate. But cooler heads prevailed on both sides, and players got back to serious lacrosse thus avoiding the kind of brawl that broke out between these same two teams on this same Marshall field in last year’s district semi-final that resulted in ejections and subsequent suspensions of players on both teams.
The third quarter ended 8-6, but not before Langley’s Bailey set up Lundeen to go one-on-one with Warhawk goalie Cass in a bid to get the margin of lead to three again with only 40 seconds left in the quarter. Cass made himself look big enough to coax Lundeen into shooting just over the crossbar.
<b>THE FOURTH QUARTER</b> started ominously for the Saxons when a three-minute stick penalty was imposed. The non-releasable, man-down situation for Langley presented a chance for Madison to take control. Russiello converted 10 seconds into the man advantage to close the gap to 8-7, but the Saxons rode out the remaining 2 minutes 50 seconds of the penalty with the majority of the possession thus avoiding further scoring by their opponents.
Langley then made the Warhawks pay for their meager goal production during the lengthy extra-man opportunity when Ningard drilled one past Cass to restore the two-goal lead for the Saxons shortly after the man-down situation expired.
But a Cybulski score less than a minute later made it a one goal game again. The Warhawks then were a bit unlucky when one of their marking middies slipped in an attempt to guard ball-carrier Bailey, who was then able to advance well to fire past the Madison goalie and high into his cage to increase the Saxon lead to two goals with a little more than six minutes remaining in the game.
A Madison penalty at the 3:18 mark eased some of the pressure on Langley defenders. However, it was only when the ball was put in Ningard’s possession in the very late stages that the Saxons could sense they were close to the finish line. The Langley attackman made a sustained run throughout the restraining box to drain the clock then shot past the Warhawk goalie with 46 seconds left, assuring the Liberty District Championship went home with Coach Earl Brewer’s Saxons.