DANVERS, Mass. -- St. John's Prep has been searching for a complete game performance all season long, and if Wednesday's postseason opener is any indication, the Eagles are getting there and may be rounding into form at exactly the right time.
Drew O'Connell ripped home four goals, Mike Harris added a pair and Andrew Belli dished out three assists as No. 13 St. John's Prep claimed a 9-5 triumph over No. 20 Lexington in a Div. 1 preliminary round matchup at Cronin Stadium.
The Eagles (10-9) face a familiar tournament foe in Lincoln-Sudbury in Saturday's first round.
The offense displayed a level of patience that produced quality shooting opportunities for the Prep offense, while the defense locked things down in its own end, something that bodes well in the team's quest to make a fourth straight appearance in the title game.
"There have been times where we've really been connecting and doing what we wanted to do and then there's been times where we just done exactly the opposite," admitted O'Connell. "Putting a full game together has been the key and I don't think it's really happened yet. We just have to keep working towards that and the better we can play, we know our potential, we have a bunch of young skilled players, and if we play our game I think we're a force to be reckoned with."
The sophomore midfielder is unquestionably a force to be reckoned with in his own right. With the Eagles clinging to a 4-2 lead midway through the second quarter, O'Connell and his deadly shot took the game over. He struck for a man-up goal at the six-minute mark, then after Eli Brick potted one for Lexington (10-11), O'Connell struck twice more, burying a shot from the alley and another on a nice rip from up top to help his team take a 7-3 lead into halftime.
"We just worked on possessing the ball, that was our motto," O'Connell said. "We knew they had a good goalie so we just wanted to move the ball as much as we could and really get the best shot possible. We just move our feet and move the ball as quick as we can. Make sure that we're sprinting all the time working hard and just completing our passes without any mental errors. If we connect on all cylinders usually good things happen."
The Colonials scored the only goal of the third quarter when Matt Mazur beat his man along the nice baseline, rolling back toward the field and snapping a shot through inside the far post. SJP responded in the fourth as defenseman Tucker Mathers fired in a goal and O'Connell buried his fourth with 5:16 to play.
The defensive group did its job as well, disrupting passes, forcing turnovers and holding the fort while the offense chipped away.
"Bryan Uva, Lucas Bavaro and Mathers, they're all big," Prep head coach John Roy said of his defensmen. "Dave Letarte gets his stick in all the time it seems to intercept passes. It's really a strong defensive unit. The progress that we've had to make and are continuing to try to make is on the offensive end where we try to control the ball with possession. Here it is a matter of experience and knowing what you can do and if you're able to execute. We have guys that are skilled and now they're getting great experience and hopefully we can build on it."