SHREWSBURY, Mass. -- While the Central Mass sectional lacrosse tournament is about a week away, St. John’s (Shrewsbury) head coach Terry Leary thinks his team already has a playoff mentality.
“Our game Saturday against Algonquin [a 7-6 overtime win] and our game against Grafton, we looked at them both as playoff games,” Leary said. “We felt like we needed these two.”
The Pioneers continued the trend on Monday with an 11-8 win over Grafton, ensuring them the top seed in the upcoming tournament.
St. John’s (13-3) used a five-goal run in the late third and early fourth quarters to distance themselves from the Indians (15-3). The depth and balance of the St. John’s attack was on full display on a muggy day in Shrewsbury.
While Grafton leaned heavily on All-American Tyler Reilly, the Pioneers had seven different goal scorers, including three different multi-goal scorers. St. John’s also made it a point to play Grafton midfielder Bryan Rotatori very aggressively, double-teaming the Indians’ other All-American nearly every time he crossed midfield, holding him to only a late goal when the game was out of reach.
“We know a lot of what they do runs through [Rotatori],” Leary said. “We know he likes to look for Tyler [Reilly] cutting, and we know he likes those diagonal passes, so we tried to take those away from him and make him work it around to the other middies.”
On the other side of the field, the Indians attempted to do the same to St. John’s attackman Drew Smiley. While the dodging junior was kept away from the cage the majority of the game, Grafton’s focus on him opened things up for senior attack Hunter Burdick’s hat trick and a pair of goals from Josh Freilich.
Kevin Butler notched his second multi-goal game in his last three games, and fellow middies Connor Long and Patrick Ryan each scored as well. It was a welcome sight for the Pioneers, who have gone from an attack-heavy offense to an increasingly balanced one in the last two weeks.
On defense, senior Aidan Fox stifled Reilly and Rotatori on ground balls all day, and took away numerous breaks launched by Indian goalie Eric Fisher. When the Indians did get good looks, they were often turned away by goalie A.J. Arnold, who robbed five clean Grafton looks.
“He made some great saves,” Leary said of Arnold. “I thought both goalies played pretty well, and A.J. Arnold got us into the late third and we went on that little run.”
Grafton will look to regain a bit of lost momentum against Mid Mass rival Nipmuc — a team the Indians have already beaten 11-0.
As for St. John’s, their gauntlet of tournament caliber games is not over quite yet. The Pioneers will welcome No. 5 Acton-Boxborough to campus this Wednesday before ending their regular season Thursday at home against West Springfield.
Both teams will know their tournament fates before week’s end with the playoff bracket set to be released Friday.