There was no double-overtime battle when the Chagrin Falls boys lacrosse team clashed with Cincinnati Mariemont (19-4) in the Division II state championship for the third time in six seasons Saturday afternoon at Ohio Wesleyan’s Selby Stadium in Delaware.
The last time the two schools collided on that stage in 2015, then-senior midfielder TJ Subel buried the game-tying tally with moments left in regulation and then the game-winner, 5-4, for the Tigers in the second period of sudden-death lacrosse.
Mariemont returned to the title game to defeat Toledo St. Francis de Sales in 2017, but the Tiger laxers were making their first championship appearance since that 2015 banner campaign.
Behind first-team all-state senior attackman Alex Morris’ four goals, two-time all-American senior goalie Otto Bergmann’s 14 saves and first-team all-state long-stick midfielder Clark Reboul’s six caused turnovers, the Tiger laxers (20-3) never left it to chance during a 10-4 dominating performance for their program’s second state championship.
“We wanted to try and avoid going into double-overtime,” said Chagrin Falls third-year head coach Paul Corto, who was an assistant during the 2015 campaign. “We came in with a plan, and the boys executed it, and I couldn’t be happier with how we played and certainly the result.”
Corto said his coaching staff and players eliminated all distractions when it came to looking back at previous years and previous championship teams.
Staying patient through most of the first quarter, the Tigers took a 1-0 lead off freshman midfielder Cam Croasdaile’s feed to Morris with 1:09 left in the frame.
“I thought it was going to be a dogfight the whole game,” Corto said. “When we were up, 1-0, in my mind, we wanted to stay aggressive. And we weren’t going to slow things down at any point, until it got later in the game. So, in the second quarter, we had some opportunities, and we were extremely aggressive with them.”
Less than a minute into the second quarter, senior midfielder and team captain Griffin Lowe found second-team all-state midfielder Ben Kniskern, a junior, to bury the 2-0 tally, and the Tigers just kept going from there.
“Cam Croasdaile was dodging, dropped it, picked up a great (groundball), and then Mariemont was sort of all over the place,” Lowe said. “So, Morris got the ball, stepped up, drew a slide, and he was sort of able to kick it to me. And I was going to take the shot, but the slide came, and I just found Benny wide open, and he’s all day on that crease shot.”
After watching film, analyzing the data they had on Mariemont and practicing to take on either the Warriors’ zone or man defense, the Chagrin boys were confident in their ability to score, Lowe said.
“We felt comfortable going into it,” he said. “And we felt that we got No. 33 running back and forth a ton in the first quarter and tired him out pretty quickly, and then we got things going and started running downhill with it, because we have so much depth on our team that we’re comfortable with whoever goes in.”
Mariemont No. 33, senior defenseman and wing specialist Charlie Cowart, an Air Force Academy commit, was named the Division II player of the year, but he alone was no match for Chagrin’s team play in that second quarter.
The Tigers’ first four goals came on assists for a 4-0 upper hand with 8:15 left in the half.
“We saw that all season long,” Morris said of the assisted play. “We had, I think, the best chemistry in my four years of being at Chagrin. I just think we connected so well with one another, and we were able to trust one another. We weren’t afraid to give the ball to any man, and everybody was willing to step up.”
After that 2-0 tally, Mariemont had the chance to take advantage of an extra-man opportunity on a one-minute cross-checking penalty against Chagrin.
When the Tigers got the man-down possession, instead of trying to run out the remainder of the penalty, they decided to attack cage for a shorty, and it paid off with junior attackman Cameron Owen burying a dish from junior middy Will O’Brien on a read-and-react play.
“We went man-down, called timeout, and we knew they were going to press out on us,” coach Corto said. “And we took advantage of it. You can sit and try to run the clock out and run the penalty out, but, in our situation, we practiced this over and over again; when teams get aggressive and try to press out on us, we’ll attack the goal. And that was a critical moment in the game.”
Fifty seconds later, goalie Bergmann assisted Croasdaile during a clear for that 4-0 tally.
Mariemont third-team all-state attackman Josh McClorey got the Warriors on the board with 6:02 left in the half, but an unassisted answer by Morris with 3:26 to go and a Lowe tally off an assist from Owen with six seconds remaining provided the Tigers a 6-1 lead at intermission.
“We knew going in that (Columbus St. Francis) DeSales was up, 4-1, on Mariemont, and Mariemont came back in the state semis,” Lowe said. “So, even when we were up, we knew they weren’t going to give up. So, that goal at the end of the first half really sent a message that we weren’t going to back down either.”
While Bergmann finished with 14 saves, he only faced six shots on goal in the first half and saved five of them, thanks to his zone defense that featured Reboul and second-team all-state junior Lucas Gaizutis taking ownership of the crease.
“Similar to our previous games, we felt like, if we gave Otto a chance to see the ball, he was going to make saves,” Corto said. “We didn’t want to put him in a position of weakness in transition or have any one-on-ones. And we forced Mariemont to beat us, six-v-six, and we held tight the whole game.
“And Otto makes the saves, gets the ball out and creates transition for us. So, it’s given us the chance to play the outstanding zone defense that we’ve played down the stretch. We weren’t going to just sit back and grind the clock.”
In the third quarter, junior middy Jack Dustin provided the Tigers a spark off the bench with a finish off an assist from Kniskern for a 7-1 lead with 7:51 remaining in the frame, before Mariemont scored back-to-back tallies to cut its deficit, 7-3.
But Chagrin hammered the nails in with three straight tallies to open the fourth, including unassisted goals from Morris and Kniskern for a 9-3 upper hand with 5:13 to play. Six seconds later, junior faceoff specialist John Cashy got the clamp and fed Morris for the 10-3 lead.
Cashy was an all-state honorable mention at faceoff, as well as an academic all-American with teammate Owen, winning north of 70 percent of his battles at the X this season, but he finished eight-of-16 against Mariemont’s first-team all-state faceoff specialist Seth Greene.
“It was a great battle between those two,” coach Corto said. “And there’s no doubt Johnny had a great year and a great game. I don’t look at 50 percent as disappointing for that game. I don’t.
“Johnny battled and grinded, and you’re going to have to compete when you’re playing in a game of this caliber. They’re going to have good players, and they’re going to make plays, and their faceoff guy did. So did Johnny.”
Capturing the state title, Chagrin Falls moved up to a No. 68 national ranking, according to Max Preps Sports.
And while it was the Tiger laxers’ second state title for their program, it was also their sixth state championship for their school.
“While we didn’t talk about our 2015 title before the game, we did talk about how our school has been around for 130 years and there were only five state championship banners hanging in the gym,” Corto said. “And we wanted an opportunity to put a sixth one up there. For me as a coach to be a part of two of them has been really special.”