Great Falls Junior Luke Salzer rocketed in a trio of goals that sparked the offense but it was a stalwart defense that carried the Saxons to a 9-4 triumph over the Stallions from South County in a Northern Region quarterfinals round playoff bout in boys lacrosse on last Friday evening, May 18 at Langley.
With the win over South County, the Saxons advanced to a semifinal battle and a chance to secure a slot in the VHSL state tournament in June – on the road against the Oakton Cougars (13-6) on Thursday, May 24. For Coach John Nolan’s Stallions (13-3), the playoff defeat ends a positively productive season that saw vast improvement with nine more wins and less than half the number of losses of a year ago, and a team record 13 victories for the spring campaign.
Salzer blasted in a pair from distance in quick succession early in the second half of play, putting some space between the two sides after a scoreless first period had slowly given way to a slender 2-1 Langley advantage by the opening minutes of the third quarter. South County responded well to pull within one goal on strikes from senior attackers Peter Basnight and Taylor Wirth. The teams traded goals in the waning moments of the third period – senior attacker Sean Ahearn delivered for the Saxons while Basnight grabbed his second of the night – to keep matters close at 5-4 in Langley’s favor to start the final period.
But the Saxon rearguard and solid goalkeeping by Andrew Spivey kept the Stallion offensive corps corralled while the Langley attack at the other end mounted a four-goal scoring run that sealed the victory for the hosts. Senior attacker Mike Adams snapped in a pair to go with Ahearn’s second of the game and a third from Salzer for the hat-trick and the game’s closing goal to add some gloss to the playoff triumph. Spivey and Saxon longpole defenders - seniors Chandler Suk and Nick Rifken, and juniors Brad Dotson and Robbie Byrne - masterfully kept the scoring ledger clean for the whole of the first half of play and the fourth quarter.
The Langley netminder was credited with seven saves while his counterpart in front of the opposite net – senior Connor Cunningham – made eight saves.
Goals were at a premium in the early stages, and nearly 16 minutes of game clock time elapsed before defenses were breached on either side for the game-opening goal. The opening period offered South County some good early looks at Spivey’s goal with several attempts that the senior netminder turned aside or snared. Dotson provided a key block on a Basnight scoring bid late in the quarter while Cunningham on the other end managed a timely intercept of a threatening pass from behind his cage triggered by senior attacker Josh Sibio.
The Saxons came out the brighter to start the second period and saw a promising bid from senior Tyler Baskins parried by the Stallion keeper, followed by shots from Ahearn and sophomore attacker J. T. Meyer that just missed the target.
But then Ahearn behind Cunningham’s cage picked out attacker Billy Orme slipping clear of his defensive marker near the crease. The sophomore turned in the assisting pass at close range for the game-opening strike less than four minutes into the second quarter.
The visitors looked to have a counter-attack advantage building soon after the ensuing face-off but a Baskins body block detached ball from opponent, with the middie then collecting the groundball for the turnover that promptly put Langley on attack once again. The Saxons doubled their lead moments later when senior middie Hunter Bentz sliced the space between Cunningham and his net frame for the unassisted score from eight yards out.
Langley maintained the offensive pressure on the Stallion defenses with junior Jack Reilly dodging in to shoot from close range, but the middie’s effort found only the side netting. Meyer then shot just wide of net while Sibio forced Cunningham into another smart save, followed by a bounce shot from senior middie Clay Rivers that missed narrowly to the right of the South County cage.
It was not all one-way traffic, though, as the Stallions grabbed some time in their offensive area late in the first half. But Byrne shut down one foray with the check, steal and clear, then made the vital intercept of a pass coming out from behind Spivey’s cage and toward awaiting South County attackers during the first man-advantage situation of the contest. For their part, Stallion defenders did as well to keep the scoring limited, in the latter part of the first half putting together a crisp sequence of long-pole passing and the clearing move involving seniors Dale Marcot and Stephen Rowley, and junior Connor Smith.
Luke Gladys supplied the scoring breakthrough for the Stallions at the start of the second half, the senior middie shooting in high past Spivey from six yards off of a fine assisting pass from senior line mate Travis Gordon. South County then was awarded a one minute man advantage but the Saxons were the ones to provide the surge with Salzer’s first of the night. The middie fired in the left-handed shot from 15 yards, then repeated that less than a minute later with a similar blast from nearly the same spot giving Langley the 4-1 lead.
Ahearn tested Cunningham from close range on two occasions but the Stallion goalie was equal to both challenges. South County was not in the mood for retreat and charged back with a pair of goals to close the gap to one goal. Basnight dodged through a crowd of defenders and flicked in past Spivey for the first, followed by Wirth’s finish from just outside the crease. The attacker saw Spivey deny his initial attempt on goal, but the rebound fell back nicely for a successful strike at the second time of asking.
Ahearn then collected a groundball during an unsettled situation and fought his way to a spot for lashing in past Cunningham to restore a two-goal margin for the Saxons with about a minute remaining in the third period. But Basnight responded quickly getting his second goal of the evening when he drilled in past Spivey off the precise pass from Wirth stationed behind the cage.
The 5-4 difference to start the final quarter of regulation time gave the encounter the flavor of a nail-biter to the finish but Langley took command in its attack zone to settle matters well before the final horn. A passing sequence from defender Suk to Byrne, then on to Salzer set up Adams well for his first of the night less than two minutes into the period. Adams then became the provider with an assisting pass for Ahearn to punch in less than a minute later.
The Stallions were again with the man-advantage and Basnight, Wirth then Gladys managed to put shots on goal but none got past Spivey. Salzer initiated the clear late in the penalty that led to Adams’ second goal, this with a feint and dodge in front of Cunningham to open up just enough space for depositing past the keeper.
Another man-up opportunity for South County coming out of a non-releasable penalty infraction by the Saxons with about five minutes remaining offered some hope of recovery for the Stallions but Dotson quickly reversed that with a key check, steal of possession and clear from the defensive zone. And Salzer was busy less than a half minute later completing his hat trick for the night, which assured Langley (17-2) of moving on to the region semifinal, and with that the prospect of claiming a spot in the VHSL State Tournament for the fourth year running.