Whodathunk, twelve games into the regular season, Coach Lewis Ratcliff’s Eastside Catholic Crusaders would be the hottest team in Division 1? With apologies to the undefeated Issaquah Eagles, the Crusaders are the surprise of this year’s season, and seem to have the inside track on cracking the Mercer/Bainbridge/Issaquah/Bellevue stranglehold of the State Final Four.
In the process, they have done what good teams do; they’ve become better as the season has progressed and last night’s victory against Bainbridge Island highlighted what a good team they’ve become. The Spartans marched into Crusaderland coming off their best lacrosse of the season with two quality wins after a narrow loss to Issaquah last Friday. While they didn’t win that one, they looked like a well-oiled unit and had two cracks at the tying goal in the final minute. They came into this game looking to build on those performances.
But Coach Visco’s boys, after freshman Erik Nimb got them on the board first, laid an egg for the rest of the half. Eastside Catholic’s Henry Jarvis dominated the face-offs, and all the possessions were on the Crusaders’ end of the field. Colin MacIlvennie was as clutch as he’s ever been, dominating the back of the net with his left hand. His five goal, two assist night sent a message that teams will have to deal with him to have any chance of defeating the Crusaders. Bainbridge’s defense pressed out hard against EC, engaging at the edge of the box. But they couldn’t deal with the Crusaders’ team speed and their slides were slow to come or non-existent. This allowed senior attackman Will Bassetti, who looked to be the fastest man on the field, to beat his man one-on-one several times on his way to his second hat trick of the season. EC befuddled Bainbridge, made them look lost, and with ten minutes remaining in the first half, they had run off seven unanswered goals and we all stood staring at a scoreboard that read 7-1.
But the battle wasn’t over yet and Bainbridge persevered, pressing time and time again to get a good shot on the cage. Finally, with three minutes to go in the half, midfielder Jason Ashton let loose with one of his trademarked rips from the outside. Then with time running out, Kaegan Ingrasci used his speed to leave the defender behind the cage and wrapped around for a goal with ten seconds left. The two teams jogged into the locker room with Eastside Catholic up 7-3, but with Bainbridge owning the late momentum.
The fans in the stands murmured throughout halftime and two thoughts were heard over and over; 1) “I guess Eastside Catholic is for real” and 2) “I wish I was in the locker room and not sitting in this freezing cold rain.” Fortunately, the snackbar was open inside, the coffee was hot, and the staff very nice, serving up grub with smiles that said “I picked the right job to volunteer for tonight, because the Field Manager looks like she’s drowning.”
After a demoralizing halftime show put on by Noah and his animals, play resumed the same way it had ended but with twice the rain. Ashton again got his hands free and ripped a 15-yard bullet that beat goalie Colin Schriever right between the feet. But Bassetti wasn’t going to let that get in his way and he outran a defender from X for another wraparound goal. A few minutes later MacIlvennie found Bassetti again to complete his hat trick and put the Crusaders up 9-4 and it felt like EC had withstood the comeback run attempted by Bainbridge. But Ingrasci found sophomore Dain Weisner who ignored a desperate slash and ripped one top shelf with 30 seconds left in the third quarter, which ends 9-5 in favor of Eastside Catholic.
During the brief intermission, an illegal stick violation combined with the slash at the end of the 3rd, puts Eastside Catholic double-man down to start the 4th. The Crusader defense pumped each other up, trying to keep the Spartans from turning the advantage into a game-changer. Improbably, not only do they stop Bainbridge, EC gets a man-down break away shot. But sophomore goalie Reynolds Yarborough stones the shot from the crease and the penalty time expired without yielding any goals.
With 10:30 left in the game Yarborough can’t get enough stick on Peter Kimble’s low shot and it dribbled into the cage, and the crowd screamed as the lead climbed. And there’s no goalie in the league that’s got a chance against McIlvennie’s unfettered lefthand which he used to put the Crusaders up 11-5. They add another and Bainbridge Coach Vesco calls a timeout to try and find a tourniquet. I don’t know what he said, but it worked.
It had to feel like a flashback to the Bellevue game for the Eastside Catholic crowd. Bainbridge’s Greg Shea plunked in two to make it 12-8 with four minutes left. Suddenly, the Crusaders can’t buy a faceoff and Ashton made them pay with two more. 12-10 with two minutes to go. But the Crusaders didn’t panic, gained possession, and settled down to run out the clock. Nine wins in a row for the team in orange.
Coach Ratcliff’s boys have now whupped two of the traditional top four powerhouses, and they get a shot at Mercer Island on Tuesday night. They are clearly not the same team that lost by eight to King’s Way in the first game of the season. Bainbridge also dropped their first game of the season, and if they can beat King’s Way next week, they will likely face Lake Washington in the playoffs with a chance to avenge that loss. Stay tuned folks, there’s still plenty of lacrosse to go…