History was made Saturday afternoon as the John Carroll University men’s varsity lacrosse team debuted after nearly 17 months of development and work.
The young Blue Streaks struck early blows and rode freshman Keegan Flinter’s late goal to defeat the Concordia University Wisconsin Falcons, 9-7, at Don Shula Stadium.
Despite the cold conditions and snow banks ringing the playing surface, neither team struggled to get on offensive runs throughout the game.
JCU dominated the early minutes, spending the vast majority of the time on the attack. The attack paid off, as the first goal in program history came off the stick of freshman Gary Anile at 13:32 in the first quarter.
“It feels awesome to be part of that history of the first game with the first team,” Anile said.
Slick passing and patient attacking earned the Blue Streaks their second goal. Freshman Declan O’Grady slung a quick pass to freshman Michael Roth, who beat Concordia goalkeeper Zack Davis on the stick side with 8:54 left in the first quarter.
O’Grady made a play of his own minutes later at 4:19, hitting a shot from 15 yards out to give JCU a 3-0 lead. Concordia struck back almost immediately, as senior Danny Dahms snuck a shot past freshman Brian Bedell one minute later.
The Falcons had chances to score late in the quarter, but a turnover in the waning seconds ended the attack. The Blue Streaks led at the end of the first, 3-1.
Concordia played strong defense early in the second, turning away the Blue Streaks despite a two-man disadvantage. The Falcons then cut the lead to one on a power play at 8:45. Dahms sent home his second goal off a pass from sophomore Tyson Roe.
Concordia senior Justin Krause tied the game at 6:47 with another goal on Bedell, but the tie was short-lived. Late in the second quarter, Anile gave JCU the lead off a strong pass from Roth with 1:43 on the clock. Moments later, with just 22 seconds left, O’Grady attacked Davis’ stick side again and gave the Blue Streaks a 5-3 lead.
The shot count was near-even at halftime, with 15 shots for JCU compared to 14 for Concordia. The Falcons turned the ball over 13 times, while the Blue Streaks tossed it away 11 times.
O’Grady had a stellar first half, recording two goals and one assist. Dahms paced Concordia, converting both his shots into goals in the first half. O’Grady would finish with three goals and one assist.
The second half started with a dominant effort in the first few minutes by Concordia. After a JCU penalty, Dahms made the most of the man up opportunity. His goal at 13:40 gave him a hat trick and cut the JCU lead to 5-4.
Three minutes later, Concordia junior Derek Brueske evened the score at five off Roe’s second assist. JCU immediately went on the offensive, and O’Grady struck back with 9:00 left in the third quarter. The freshman’s third goal gave the Blue Streaks a 6-5 lead.
Minutes later, O’Grady was joined in the three-goal club by Anile, as the freshman snagged a pass from freshman Dominic Starvaggi and put the ball in the goal with 6:15 remaining in the third.
The Falcons struck back off a turnover minutes later. Matt Larsen recorded his first goal with 4:08 left, cutting it to a 7-6 Blue Streaks lead. The third quarter ended with that same JCU advantage.
The JCU defense was unable to contain Dahms early in the fourth quarter, allowing his fourth goal with 12:15 left in the game. The teams battled back and forth for much of the period, with neither taking all the momentum in the attack.
JCU made the huge plays late, as Flinter entered the attack zone uninhibited and buried the game-winner with 1:39 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“I got the ball and drove right, not really expecting to shoot,” Flinter said. “The defender slipped and I found an opening. That ball went through the net, and in that moment all of our hard work had paid off.”
Roth struck the last blow, drilling a shot from point blank range with 39 seconds left to seal the 9-7 victory.
Four different players scored for the Blue Streaks: O’Grady, Anile, Roth and Flinter. Concordia was heavily reliant on Dahms for most of their offense. JCU outshot the Falcons, 32-27, and forced a few key turnovers late to seal it.
“Their midfielders were talented and we had a few breakdowns,” said Bedell. “But we pulled together and were determined to win at the end.”
Head coach Brian Small was thrilled with his squad’s first effort.
“I can’t pick out an individual player to praise,” Small said. “It was and always has been a team effort.
“Every guy from top to bottom on the roster and coaching staff have always been ready early, working hard in practice and that’s why we’re here,” said Small.
The team returns to action on Saturday, Feb. 22 at Shula Stadium for a 1 p.m. matchup with Trine University.