In the emotionally-charged atmosphere on the field following his team’s 7-5 victory over Coronado in the CIF Open Division Championship Saturday night, May 19, at San Marcos High School, Torrey Pines boys lacrosse coach Jono Zissi had a simple description of his feelings.
“Relief,” said the eight-year Falcon Head Coach. “We’ve had the best team the last couple of years and kind of found a way to lose three-of-the-last four. These guys deserved to win. They work harder than anyone and our seniors, who have grinded so hard for four years and never won—they wanted it so bad.”
To lift the trophy, the top-seeded Falcons had to overcome something they hadn’t encountered all season—a significant deficit. After handily defeating Cathedral Catholic (18-7) and Poway (16-7) to reach Saturday’s final, Torrey Pines found itself trailing third-seeded Coronado, 3-0, with less than four minutes left in the first half. The Islanders, who had upset second-seed La Costa Canyon in Wednesday’s semi-final used a deliberate style of play and the hot hand of goalie Joe Walsh to frustrate Zissi’s side.
“When it was 3-0, I didn’t feel too good,” the veteran coach conceded. “They played a slowdown game which we don’t like. We weren’t getting face-offs, they controlled the tempo, were doing what they wanted and their goalie played well.” That all changed at the 3:31 mark when freshman Dewey Egan pulled his own rebound out of the air and tomahawked it past Walsh to get the Falcons on the scoreboard. The eruption on the field and the Torrey Pines sideline signaled that it was a new ballgame.
“We always said ‘one goal, one ground ball, one play at a time,’” said Zissi. “We weren’t going to get three goals all at once, we just needed one.
“We got one and you could just see a difference. That one goal, as miniscule as it was, was huge. I think everyone relaxed—I know I did.”
Sophomore Blake Erlbeck made it 3-2, scoring on the end of a counter attack with 16 seconds left in the first half, and any question about whether the momentum had shifted were answered. Junior Alex Pistorius registered the first of his two goals on a quick hitter to tie it early in the second half and shortly thereafter the night’s most critical sequence took place.
Torrey Pines got flagged for a two-minute penalty at 7:32 of the third period. With the score tied in a similar situation three nights earlier, Coronado had scored two man-up goals to change the course of their semi-final at LCC. The same potential loomed here. Instead, the Falcons were able to regain possession and less than 30 seconds after running out the penalty got their fourth unanswered goal, an unassisted strike from junior Brad Lienhart. Zissi called it what it was.
“That was the biggest turning point of the game,” he said. “Taking that big penalty, all the emotions involved, killing off two minutes and then scoring. That was the game.”
Coronado didn’t exactly get that message, coming back to re-tie the contest on a tally by senior Taylor Fialkowski. After the two squads exchanged goals again, Pistorius and Fialkowski doing the honors, it was still 5-5 with under six minutes to go in regulation. Fittingly, it was a senior, Shayne Grant, who put Torrey Pines on top for good at the 5:40 mark.
“We stopped them on defense, got the ball to our offensive side, I got the ball up top and we ran a play we call “eagle,” said Grant, “One of my teammates set a pick, I went off it towards the goal, rolled back and I was wide open. I took a lefty shot and bounced it in.”
There were a few frantic moments, including a huge save by Torrey’s junior goalie Stephan Lauter (one of 12 total) at 4:47 with Coronado again on a power play. “He (Stephan) was phenomenal,” said defender Evan Egan. “He was what we needed and more tonight.”
The Falcons eventually controlled the ball and ran out the clock, Erlbeck netting an insurance goal with 30 seconds on the board. At the buzzer, the weight of four years released itself. The North Carolina-bound Egan admitted to the passionate nature of the night and how much the win meant personally and to his fellow seniors.
“You try not to think about it but in the back of your mind, it’s definitely there,” said Egan. “You build such good relationships with your teammates and knowing it’s going to be the last time you’re going to be out there with them. This is the way you want to go out.”
It was the third CIF crown for Zissi at Torrey Pines but this one felt unique. “It’s different because none of these guys has ever won one,” he said. “This senior class has come up short every year—it’s so special to be able to see them celebrate tonight.”