By BOB YORK
As any Deerfield Academy lacrosse player – past or present – has learned, it’s on the menu every year, once a year. It’s really nothing more than hamburger that’s been shaped into the likeness of steak and smothered in gravy, but when the opportunity arises – in late May – nobody has to bother telling you to eat up. Especially, when it comes with compliments of the chef: Salisbury School.
These two New England prep school lacrosse powerhouses continued their annual food fight this spring and for the second straight year – and for the 11th time in the past 17 years – coach Chip Davis has sat at the head of the table and watched his boys come away licking their chops.
This year’s showdown went to Deerfield, via an 11-10 decision in overtime. And although it ended the Big Green’s streak of not allowing an opponent to reach double figures at 92 consecutive games, this victory, as usual, parted the doors to the Division I Western New England Lacrosse League throne room. For the ninth time in the past 11 years, the Big Green has earned at least a share of the crown. It has registered three championships outright, while it has split the title on five other occasions. And once, the title had to be divided into thirds.
“And this year marked the fourth time that we’ve ended up sharing the crown with Salisbury,” said Davis, whose club rang up a 14-2 showing this season, while going 11-1 in what is considered one of the most highly competitive leagues throughout the country.
“This was the most difficult schedule we’ve ever played,” said Davis, whose record now stands at 279-55 through 21 seasons. And that degree of difficulty was easily decipherable in the box scores. “Six of our 16 games were determined by one goal. We went 4-2 in those one-goal games and we went 3-1 in overtime. So, we did pretty well for ourselves in those close ones. “
And, to be honest, the Big Green had to be good in those close ones if it had any chance of defending at least a portion of the whole enchilada it captured last spring when it posted a 15-0 record. The rule of thumb in this league is if you go undefeated – which Deerfield has accomplished three times in the past six years – the title’s all yours. One loss, and you’re probably looking at a tie. Two losses, well, unless everyone’s having an off year, you can start thinking about next season.
Deerfield began its scoreboard watching early this season, as what proved to be its lone league loss of the 2012 campaign came back on April 18, when it dropped an 8-7 decision in overtime to Trinity Pawling. And so, with its 21-game winning streak now in the past, the Big Green knew there was no room for error as it looked to the future. And none were made, in league play, anyway. Deerfield went 9-1 the rest of the way, dropping only an independent contest to Lawrenceville School by a 7-6 count.
The Big Green produced its 19th consecutive winning season with a trademark stingy defense, as it allowed just 6.0 goals per game. And in a wide-open sport such as lacrosse, being that stingy is pretty special.
Offensively, Deerfield took on a new look this season. Unlike past years when one player would dominate the score sheets – like Jimmy Bitter did last year with 75 points on 52 goals and 23 assists – this year’s Big Green attack was balanced. No 70-point scorers, just a bunch in the 30s.
“At the beginning of the season, everyone was trying to be the team scoring leader, but it really wasn’t working out,” said Davis. “But once the kids figured out for themselves that we’d be better off with a balanced attack, we became a much better team.
“Besides,” added Davis, “whenever you have a balanced scoring attack, it makes it much harder for the opponent to key in on one particular player.”
This season, Ian Ardrey (12), who helped lead Deerfield to a 45-3 record over the past three years, led the Big Green attack with 44 points on 32 goals and a dozen assists. Reaching the 30-point plateau, meanwhile, were Sean Connors (12), who had 34 points on 15 goals and 19 assists, while Thomas Flibotte (12) rang up 33 points on 27 goals and six assists. Mark Glicini (12), who shared this year’s Benjamin C. Haviland Trophy with Nick Mahaney, was 18-14—32, as Bob Gray (12) went 19-12—31.
This spring’s defense was headed up by defenseman Brian Pickup (12), who was considered one of the premier high school-age defensemen in the country and received the Nells Corey Award as the Most Valuable Defenseman in the league and earned all-league honors as well.
“He played some outstanding defense for us,” said Davis. “We’d always put him on the opponent’s top scorer and he did an outstanding job of shutting them down all season long.”
As usual, goaltending proved to be a key component in Deer field’s success. Due to health issues, however, Davis found himself counting on two goalies.
The first was Luke Aaron (12), who backboned last year’s undefeated effort by allowing seven or less goals in 12 of his 15 games. But he went down with mono with an 8-1 record – and a two-year mark of 23-1 – and that left the crease open for David Hamilton (14), whose efforts would earn him this year’s Rhodes Cup as the team’s top rookie.
“I got in there just in time for the stretch run,” quipped Hamilton, (6-1) whose most competitive time spent in goal up until this point had come during the past two summer leagues he had played in.
And, of course, Hamilton’s stint had him between the pipes for that make-it-or-break-it game against Salisbury.
“Believe it or not, I wasn’t really that nervous about the game,” said Hamilton. “I was well aware of its importance, but I ‘d been playing enough by that point that I’d gained confidence in my ability.”
Even so, it still proved to be a nerve-wrenching game, but not just for the rookie goaltender.
“The overtime period was crazy,” said Hamilton, and that’s because Salisbury actually scored on him during the OT.
“I got a piece of the ball but in doing so, I actually tipped it into the goal myself and when I looked behind me and saw the ball sitting in our goal, my heart just sunk,” said Hamilton.
“The next thing I realized, however, was the referee immediately waving it off as a no-goal. Come to find out in all the commotion, the Salisbury coach had called a timeout just prior to the shot … it’s amazing how quickly you can go from feeling crappy to feeling great.”
And Hamilton was on top of the world moments later “when we scored on our next possession,” as Taylor Topousis (12) tallied what will be ranked amongst the biggest goals ever scored in Deerfield annals.