WORCESTER — There is a raging debate about whether it is better for a team to be balanced or to be driven by star power. But there is no question that at the end of a close game, it is advantageous to have the best player on the field on your side.
That was true for the Groton-Dunstable boys lacrosse team against Wachusett in the Central Massachusetts Division 2 semiinals. The Crusaders had trailed throughout, but battled back to tie the game at 7-7. In the final seconds they put the ball into the hands of their All-American, Danny Eipp, and he delivered. Eipp circled the net, leaped into the air and fired a shot high into the net with just seven seconds remaining to punch the Crusaders ticket into the finals against St. John’s with a thrilling 8-7 victory.
“The team has faith in me and I love having the ball in that situation,” said Eipp. “We had to battle back in the game but we have proven throughout the season that we can come back. We did a good job of keeping our composure and goaltender Mike Kerwin was our MVP with some great saves.”
“This is our seventh come-from-behind win,” said Groton-Dunstable coach Rick Arena. “Wachusett has a lot of offensive threats, but it is nice to have Danny Eipp with the ball on his stick with the game on the line. Mike Kerwin kept us close with his goaltending and he came up big for us. St. John’s is the lacrosse team in Central Massachusetts and we will be the underdog against them, but these kids don’t mind that.”
In the first quarter, the Crusaders struggled to get untracked offensively as Wachusett did an outstanding job of possessing the ball. Eipp, who finished with four goals, made a brilliant individual effort for the first goal of the game, dodging three or four Wachusett defenders as he came from behind the net before slipping a shot under the crossbar 2:44 into the game.
Wachusett tied things up a 6:17 when Chris Murphy broke in from the right corner and netted a shot from close range, but the Crusaders regained the lead just 18 seconds later on the prettiest goal of the night. Riley Baxter got the fast break underway and sent a pass to Shane Penney, who passed to Tim Marris. Eipp was positioned at the left post and took a perfect pass from Marris and sent a shot into the open net to make it 2-1.
The remainder of the period was all Wachusett as the Mountaineers fired the final five shots on goal with two of them finding the back of the net.
At 7:18, Steve Iacaboni made a run down the middle and scored from 12 yards out. With just two seconds left in the quarter, Iacaboni picked up a loose ball and netted a hard, low shot to make it 3-2 after 12 minutes.
It could have been worse for the Crusaders, but Kerwin made two key saves late in the first quarter, denying both Connor Doherty and Brian Ritter on testing shots.
Wachusett extended the lead to 4-2 just 33 seconds into the second quarter when Doherty netted a short shot after breaking in from right wing, but the Crusaders turned things around and mounted their best offensive pressure of the game, getting six consecutive shots on goal.
At 3:11, Eipp once again befuddled the Wachusett defense with a run from behind the net, scoring after slipping past numerous defenders.
At 8:04, the Crusaders drew even when Shane Penney took a pass in front of the net from Marris and scored to make it 4-4.
But Wachusett bounced back with the final two tallies of the first half, Zach Paquette scoring with a shot inside the right post from left wing, and Doherty beating the halftime buzzer by 27 seconds with a shot under the cross bar after picking up a loose ball to send the Mountaineers to intermission with a 6-4 advantage.
Kerwin came up big in the early stages of the third quarter to keep the Crusaders within striking distance with a pair of quality stops against Iacaboni, the first off a hard bouncer and the second from point blank range.
Groton-Dunstable sliced the lead in half at 8:45 when Riley Baxter took a pass from Marris and scored from 15 yards out, but Wachusett re-established their two-goal lead with 12 seconds left in the quarter when Murphy cut in from right wing and scored after taking a pass from Ritter.
Trailing 7-5 entering the fourth quarter, the Crusaders tightened up the defense, allowing only two shots on goal and did a better job of controlling the ball.
Marris made it 7-6 when he circled the net and scored from close range.
At 7:05, Marris struck again surprising Wachusett goaltender Greg Wong with a shot from a difficult angle that bounced off the netminder and into the net to tie the game at 7-7.
Kerwin answered the call with a solid save of Paquette’s hard left wing shot, and Groton-Dunstable defender Dylan Cedrone came up big when he broke up a dangerous Wachusett foray, setting the stage for Eipp’s decisive goal.
Kerwin and Wong each made nine saves in the game.
Marris had a strong game for the Crusaders with two goals and three assists while Penney and Baxter each chipped in with a goal.
Iacaboni led Wachusett with two goals and an assist, while Murphy and Doherty each added two goals.