High school lacrosse is continuing to move up in San Diego County; it's beginning to downright blossom in the South Bay.
There are indications the sport, at least boys lacrosse, is headed for two playoff divisions, possibly as early as next season. That will be a relief for many mid-size programs throughout the San Diego Section that have had to butt sticks with a growing number of elite teams in a single playoff division since the sport's CIF certification in 2002.
The era of one Metro Conference playoff qualifier could be ending in the near future, so could a South Bay team being "automatically" penciled in as the No. 16 playoff seed.
"We want to get out of that first-round match-up against the No. 1 seed," said Eastlake coach Nestor Rosas. "I think we have a good chance to do that with this year's group."
Rosas describes this year's Titan squad as "pretty powerful."
"We want to win our league - we want to repeat," said Rosas, whose team sports a 3-2 record following wins against Monte Vista, Hilltop and El Capitan and losses to Granite Hills and San Marcos. "There's still quite a bit of difference between us and the better North County teams. We've got a lot of work to do."
Eastlake dropped a 9-8 decision against longtime East County power Granite Hills but lost 16-3 to fourth-ranked San Marcos.
The Titans are clearly being pushed from below in their own league as well.
Eastlake had all it could handle in its league opener against visiting Hilltop on March 25. The game was in doubt until the waning minutes of the final quarter when the hosts led just 7-6.
But, in the end, the more talent-rich Titans pulled out a nerve-racking 9-6 victory. The game's momentum turned in a 70-second span that started with 57 seconds left in the third quarter when Jacob Dempsey scored to give the hosts the lead at 6-5. Zach Bannon, last year's Metro Player of the Year as a sophomore, then took a feed off the opening face-off to begin the fourth quarter to up the Eastlake lead to two goals - 7-5 - with just 13 seconds elapsed in the final period.
The Titans used similar tactics to subdue visiting El Capitan in Monday's non-league encounter. Bannon scored with 10 seconds left in the first half to make the score 6-3. Dempsey then upped the lead to 7-3 on a goal scored with just one second on the clock to leave the Vaqueros in a daze.
Eastlake went on to win 13-5. El Capitan tied the game early 3-3.
Dempsey and Christian Ballow each had two goals in the first half in Monday's game. Ballow scored four goals against Hilltop.
Ballow, Bannon and Dempsey were all part of a lethal sophomore scoring combination last season and the trio doesn't seem to have lost pace this season as juniors. Nor has returner David Santana, another key offensive player in the lineup.
"Our game is fast break," Rosas said. "If I were to prepare a game plan against us, I would have done the same thing Hilltop did - go for ball possession to limit the time our offense has the ball. This was a league game for both teams and I knew Hilltop was going to show for this game and they did."
It was likely the most complete game a Hilltop team has ever played - at least against an opponent of Eastlake's caliber. It should be noted that the Lancers actually scored an own goal for the winners, making the three-goal loss even closer.
"We had 12 more shots than they did - we just needed to convert half of those shots we missed," Hilltop coach Pete Bishop said. "Our guys played a fine game."
Hilltop is off to a 2-4 start but is 2-1 since opening the season with consecutive losses to El Capitan, Helix and Monte Vista.
"The expectation every year is to win your conference and that's the expectation of every other team," Bishop said. "This is why you play the game."
The Lancers host Eastlake on April 26 and it will be interesting where the teams stand at that point of the season after each has had a chance to test a Bonita Vista team off to a rapid-fire 4-1 start.
Bishop said the one thing his team will be battling this season is a lineup without much bench depth. "The first line is pretty good," the Hilltop coach said. "We just don't have the backups."
Top returners include attackmen/midfielders Ben Potter and Robby Miranda, goalie Matt Lozano and defender Jeremy Best. Also returning is utility ace Ben Santos. All five players are seniors. Junior Ryan Kennedy, an attackman/middie, also is counted among the team's top players.
Miranda led the Lancers with three goals against Santana while Austin Clark and Potter each had one goal and one assist and Lozano notched 11 saves. Potter had three goals in the loss to Eastlake while Miranda scored twice and Lozano had 12 saves.
Impact newcomers include middie Tylor Spracklin and sophomore attackman/middie Austin Hughes.
Spracklin played football in the fall and roller hockey in the winter. "He brings a lot of stuff over from those two sports," Bishop said.
The Lancers picked up their first win of the season on March 16 when they bested the Preuss School, 9-3, behind three goals and one assist by Miranda, two goals and one assist by Potter and two goals by Clark.
2010 BOYS LACROSSE STATISTICS
Metro Conference Standings
School W-L W-L
Bonita Vista 1-0 4-1
Eastlake 1-0 3-2
Otay Ranch 1-0 1-4
Chula Vista 0-0 1-4
Hilltop 0-1 2-4
Montgomery 0-1 0-3
Mar Vista 0-1 1-1
San Diego Section Rankings
Top 15 Teams
1. La Costa Canyon (5-0)
2. Torrey Pines (4-0)
3. Poway (4-0)
4. San Marcos (7-1)
5. Santa Fe Christian (6-2)
6. Scripps Ranch (4-2)
7. Rancho Bernardo (2-2)
8. Patrick Henry (5-1)
9. Grossmont (3-2)
10. Cathedral Catholic (2-4)
11. Canyon Crest (5-1)
12. Helix (5-1)
13. Carlsbad (3-2)
14. Coronado 0-2)
15. Bonita Vista (4-1)