Mon, May 06 2013 08:39 PM Posted By: Phillip Brents
When you see endings to boys lacrosse games like that which transpired Monday at Hilltop High School, you have to believe in guardian angels.
The Eastlake Titans will play for the Metro Conference championship on Wednesday thanks to their personal guardian angel — and a freakish goal scored with 41 seconds to play to snap a 3-3 tie against the host Lancers.
It was a freak play that won the game — one that has to make you stop and think for a moment.
Hilltop, a 10-goal underdog in the contest, was pushing hard at the other end of the field for the game-winner — and the biggest upset in school history – when fate intervened. A loose ball hopped right onto the stick of team captain Casey Stanko, who, without missing a stride, promptly headed up field on the attack.
A few seconds, and a couple of passes later, even the visiting Titans had to wonder if something from another realm was indeed watching over them.
With time ticking down, Eastlake’s Jordan Vicente was checked hard in front of the Lancer goal. Yet somehow he managed to get off a shot as he was falling to the turf. Video replays can only confirm if he shot the ball while still in flight or if he was actually on his belly when he released the ball.
Regardless of how it happened, Vicente’s shot trickled over the goal line, through the goalie's legs and, almost miraculously, the Titans had bagged their 13th consecutive league win of the season.
Eastlake (13-0 in league, 17-2 overall) will host arch rival Otay Ranch Wednesday at 7:10 p.m. The game will serve as a final tribute to the memory of senior co-captain Tommy Henderson, who died in a swimming pool accident five games into the season.
Henderson had set personal and team goals this season to defeat Otay Ranch and capture the Metro banner.
It looks as if a guiding hand is steering the Titans in that direction.
“Remember, guys, this is for Tommy,” Stanko said while closing Eastlake’s post-game meeting. “We’re almost there — one game left.”
“Tommy!” the now familiar cheer promptly went up from the entire team.
The Titans have kept to their word all season, and Henderson might keep his.
“I was falling down but it was in my head that this ball had to go in,” Vicente said after the game. “If we had lost, it would have been huge.”
Vicente paused, then added, “We’re still playing for Tommy.”
Eastlake, which previously topped Hilltop by an 11-1 score on April 10, led just 3-1 at halftime against a determined Lancer squad bent on claiming a victory — and a possible berth in the upcoming San Diego Section Division II playoffs.
Goals by Ben Bernabe and Justin Lillard tied the game at three goals apiece in the third quarter and a dramatic ending was set up as the fourth quarter ticked down to a minute to play without any further scoring by either team.
All the momentum seemed to be on Hilltop’s side when the game-breaking moment finally transpired.
“Our defense had a lot to do with them being off on their shots,” Lancer coach Pete Bishop said.
The superb play of Hilltop goalie Alec Moreno perhaps had even more to do with the Titans being held to one of their lowest outputs of the season. Moreno was credited with 26 saves in the game — but No. 27 proved too elusive.
“Almost …” Bishop offered with a slight grimace.
Many on the Hilltop sideline called it the greatest game ever played by a Lancers boys lacrosse team in school history.
Few would dispute that.
“We played the better team game out there today,” Bishop said. “The boys were supporting each other both on offense and defense. I’m proud of them.”
If there was a difference between the teams on Monday, it was in the Titans’ superior catching and passing abilities — and, most importantly, holding onto the ball.
Unforced errors cost the hosts critical territorial possession throughout the contest. Bishop has to count Monday’s loss as a moral victory. “A heck of a game,” he said.
The Titans, meanwhile, hope to continue to count up the wins … possibly to 14-0 on Wednesday.
Andy Barrios scored Hilltop’s first goal on Monday. Michael Nauta, Dylan Furseth and Stanko had Eastlake’s three first-half goals.
The Titans accomplished one of their unstated goals this season when they defeated visiting Montgomery, 23-3, on April 22. Henderson’s jersey number was 23. When Eastlake reached the 23-goal mark in the game, all attempts at scoring another goal were quickly put on hold. The Titans had previously scored 21 goals at Montgomery on March 20.
Hilltop (6-7 in league, 8-11 overall) will close out regular season play on Wednesday with a key 5:30 p.m. contest at Bonita Vista. The Lancers appear to need a season-ending victory against the Barons (9-3, 12-6) to have any hope of advancing to post-season play.
Bonita Vista captured the teams’ first-round game by a score of 7-3 on April 15.
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