By Ed Niser
GROTON — Coming into Tuesday’s game, Groton-Dunstable head coach Rick Arena knew that Littleton (5-1) could score in bunches. The strategy was to keep the ball out of the Tigers’ sticks for as long as possible.
In the first half, Littleton hopped out to a 5-1 lead, but the Crusaders never faltered.
Groton-Dunstable kicked it into high gear in the second half to fuel a 10-7 come-from-behind victory over the undefeated Tigers in its home opener. Kyle Lacombe scored the eventual game-winner with 6:28 remaining in the fourth to put the Crusaders out in front for good.
“We knew coming in that Littleton was a very strong program and that they were on a roll,” Said Arena. “We knew that they didn’t give up many goals — we knew that it was going to be a tough order for us. They (Littleton) showed how good they were in the first half, they were tough. Our guys stepped up and made some plays to allow us to come out on top.”
Groton-Dunstable forward Liam McDonough was a force to be reckoned with on the draw, winning 11 of 16 he took — including three straight in the third.
Momentum swayed the Crusaders’ way in the third quarter when it killed off a locked-in two-minute penalty for a check to the head.
“Liam has been great for us all year,” Arena said. “Especially in a game like today, without him, a game like this could have gotten out of hand pretty easily. To keep it away from Littleton, whether it be man-up or even, is a huge plus. Killing that two minute penalty was just huge for us down the stretch.”
Groton-Dunstable held Littleton to just one goal in the second half and it all started at the back line with the play of goalie Ryan McClean. McClean stopped seven shots in the win.
“This is Ryan’s first year playing regularly and he is going to just get better every single game,” Arena said. “You can see that with his decision-making and how he is saving the ball.”
The Crusaders trailed 6-3 at the half, but the hosts got out to a hot start in the third. Groton-Dunstable received three unanswered strikes by Jack O’Neill (2 goals), Nick Irby (2 goals) and Mitchell Townsend (2 goals, 3 assists) to knot the game at 6-6 with 1:15 remaining.
Kyle Lacombe gave Groton-Dunstable its first lead on a feed from Blake Lacombe with 6:28 remaining in the third. Thirty-four seconds later, the Crusaders padded the lead following yet another big win at the center-x by McDonough.
O’Neill braced himself for contact as he hit the low-whip shot to up the Crusaders’ advantage to 8-6.
Littleton responded with a goal from Griffin Shoemaker (3 goals, 2 assists) with 2:46 remaining in the fourth. Arena and the Crusaders took a time out immediately following the goal.
Groton-Dunstable silenced the Tigers in the final two minutes with a pair of insurance markers from Irby and Blake LaCombe to put the game out of reach.
“Our goal in the third quarter was to get within a couple of goals of them,” Arena said. “We ended up tying it up at the end of three. From there, we just took that momentum and carried it into the fourth quarter. We just had some guys play some great lacrosse. Mitchell Townsend just played a monster game and was a workhorse for us at the end. We used his net at the end of the game to control clock. It was just a great win.”
Follow Ed Niser on Twitter/Tout: @EdNiser.