Coming into Wednesday night’s CIF Open Division semi-final against Coronado, the La Costa Canyon Boys Lacrosse team had its sights set on Saturday night’s championship game and a presumed rematch with No. 1 Torrey Pines, its long time rival and a team it had lost to, 12-8, less than three weeks earlier.
Unfortunately for Coach Kevin Cooper and his second-seeded Mavericks, Coronado had some scores of its own to settle, including a 10-9 loss to LCC in last spring’s CIF final and a 10-7 regular season defeat a month and a half ago. After 48 minutes of hard-fought, compelling lacrosse, it was the third-seeded Islanders who were celebrating a well-deserved, 11-10, victory and they are the team that will now face Torrey Pines for the CIF crown Saturday night at San Marcos High School.
“That was a pretty incredible game,” said Cooper, whose team finishes the season 17-3. “It was a game of runs and the momentum went back-and-forth between the teams, maybe more than I’ve ever seen as a coach. the season 17-3. “It was a game of runs and the momentum went back-and-forth between the teams, maybe more than I’ve ever seen as a coach.
“We weren’t able to take a deep breath and get a really good possession after we’d had some success—that’s where we kind of gave it away. It was a heck of a job by Coronado, a testament to their team and coaching staff—they’re a handful, especially when they play good, unselfish lacrosse like they did tonight.”
The Islanders’ ability to break down the LCC defense, particularly seniors Jake Brophy and Micah Grimm who combined for seven goals, and some uncharacteristically sloppy play by the Mavericks were keys to the outcome.
The tone was set in a scoreless first six minutes, when the pace and intensity of the action made one feel like the first team to score might win. The sides settled in and exchanged early goals but midway through the second quarter, LCC tallied back-to-back—a nice defender-shaking move freed up Aiden Kockler for the first and junior JJ Sillstrop scooped up a rebound for the second—giving the Mavs the first two-goal lead at 4-2 and plenty of momentum with 9:55 remaining in the half. It didn’t last long.
Coronado scored the first of its three power play goals at 4:41 and Brophy netted a left-handed even strength bounce shot at 2:01 to tie things up. With the tide already shifting, LCC got hit with a game-changing penalty just as the half expired, giving the visitors a two-minute (unreleasable) man advantage to start the second half. The Islanders took full advantage with Grimm and Brophy both logging man-up goals and forcing the Mavericks into catch-up mode.
“The penalty at the end of the half really killed us and we seemed deflated coming out,” said Cooper. “You can’t foul a really good team like Coronado, they’re going to score goals.” But LCC showed some grit of its own and the sudden two-goal deficit seemed to activate the sublime Sillstrop to put the club on his back.
At 8:53, Sillstrop converted on a power play, senior Isaac Smith (who won 18 of 24 draws on the night) got the ball right back, Trey Kockler raced to within 10 yards of goal, dumped it off to Sillstrop and in a span of 13 seconds, the game was deadlocked again. Coronado scored next but LCC hit repeat—Smith to (Trey) Kockler to Sillstrop—and the latter’s third straight goal made it 7-7. Just over three minutes later, from behind the net, Sam Ginsler found Jake Auger who found the back of the net and LCC was back on top, 8-7.
But then, another mistake. After Coronado turned the ball over in its own end of the field, LCC got hit by a procedure call, giving it right back and the Islanders knotted the game with a score five seconds before the end of the period. It was the first of three in a row, the last two by Grimm early in the final quarter, putting Coronado in command, 10-8.
Sillstrop and Brophy exchanged goals leaving Coronado ahead by two with 4:40 remaining. A rash of unforced errors by La Costa Canyon followed, allowing the Islanders to run the clock down. Sillstrop scored a desperation goal with seven seconds remaining, the Mavs got the ball off the face-off but did not have enough time to get produce a quality shot to bring them even.
Cooper, who loses just three seniors from this year’s roster, was philosophical afterward. “We did some uncharacteristic things like throwing the ball away five times in the fourth quarter, but high school kids do that sometimes in a big moment, nerves might have been a factor,” he said. “But we had a tremendous season. We lost eight senior starters off last year’s championship team and to have the season we had with a young, inexperienced group like this, I’m really happy, really proud.
“We lose a couple of important seniors but we’ve got a solid team returning. We’ll take a good, hard look in the mirror and come back hungry next year.” One who won’t come back is Smith. Graduating next month, he leaves having experienced the highest of highs and lows, like Wednesday night, over the course of his career.
“It’s pretty difficult right now but I think this will be pivotal for next year’s team—to drive them to get to the championship, to win the championship,” he said. “Hopefully, this loss on our home field will give them that extra push and remind them to never give up. We didn’t give up tonight, Coronado just played a phenomenal game—they get props for that.”