WORCESTER — The Groton-Dunstable boys lacrosse team showed an uncanny ability to come from behind this season, but on Thursday night the Crusaders weren’t able to mount a successful comeback against St. John’s in the Central Mass. Division 2 Championship game. St. John’s took charge of the game with a lightning-quick three-goal burst within the first three minutes of the game, forcing the Crusaders to play catch-up the rest of the way. St. John’s bent, but never broke and advanced into the state semifinals with a 9-6 victory.
“Once again we got off to a slow start,” said Groton-Dunstable coach Rick Arena. “St. John’s plays a tight and aggressive game, and they are smart and do a good job of holding the ball. They did a great job on rides up the field and we had a tough time clearing the ball. We battled back but we ran out of time.”
Groton-Dunstable goaltender Mike Kerwin came up with the first big save of the game, denying Nate Etre from point-blank range 1:15 into the game, but two minutes later the complexion of the game changed in a hurry when the Pioneers took control with three goals in a span of 19 seconds.
At 3:13, Steve Deflumeri made it 1-0 when he ripped a shot inside the post. After the Pioneers won the faceoff, Deflumeri finished off a fast break after taking a pass from Nick Papoojian just 10 seconds later to double the lead. Proving that bad things come in three’s, just nine seconds later Ryan Dawidjan bounced a shot into the net from 10 yards out to put the Pioneers on top 3-0.
On three separate occasions over the remainder of the first half, the Crusaders drew to within two goals.
At 5:44 of the first period, Riley Baxter put Groton-Dunstable on the board when he took a pass from Tim Marris and scored from outside the right post to make it 3-1.
Less than a minute later, Deflumeri completed his hat trick with a 12-yard shot after breaking in from right wing to rebuild the lead to three.
Groton-Dunstable fired the final salvo of the first quarter at 10:10, Marris scoring from 10 yards out to make it 4-2 after 12 minutes.
The Pioneers did a solid job of controlling the ball, showing plenty of patience offensively, and 4:30 into the second period Kerwin answered the call by stopping Deflumeri from point- blank range.
The Pioneers made it 5-2 at 7:22 when John Joseph bounced a shot into the net from 15 yards out.
The Crusaders hung tough, drawing to within 5-3 at 9:12 when Keith English had his first shot stopped by St. John’s goaltender Dan Harvey, but chased down the rebound and scored into an open net.
Harvey came up huge a minute later with back-to-back stops off testing shots from Marris and Dan Eipp, and the Pioneers took the 5-3 lead to intermission.
The Pioneers appeared to land the knockout punch in the third quarter as they controlled play and scored three consecutive goals to boost the lead to a commanding 8-3.
At 1:26, Papoojian broke in from right wing and netted a bouncing shot.
At 2:36, Tucker Strzempko cut to the net and took a pass from Deflumeri and bounced a shot past Kerwin.
At 6:18, Joseph scored from right wing with a bouncing shot.
With the game slipping away, Groton-Dunstable sliced into the lead at 7:12 when English cut across the middle and fired a bullet past Harvey, but the Crusaders trailed 8-4 entering the fourth quarter.
Groton-Dunstable came out with a sense of urgency in the fourth quarter and had three quality scoring chances denied by Harvey, who turned away a pair of shots by Baxter and one by Shane Penney.
The Crusaders didn’t go away and scored twice within 29 seconds to climb back into the game.
At 5:57, Eipp broke in from left wing and fired a shot under the cross bar.
At 6:26, Marris took a pass from Eipp outside the right post and sent a shot under the crossbar to make it 8-6.
That would be the final Groton-Dunstable shot on goal and at 9:37 Jeff Desko iced the game when he broke through Groton-Dunstable defenders and fired a shot inside the left post.
“The St. John’s goaltender made some big saves,” said Arena. “We came into the game wanting to stop Etre and Desko and we did a good job on them, but other kids stepped up for them. Kirk Bingham played one of his best games of the season defensively for us.”