WORCESTER, Mass. -- It was more a matter of when than if.
With a sizeable 6-1 lead in the third quarter of Tuesday’s Division 2 Central semi-final matchup with rival Algonquin at Foley Stadium, St. John’s (Shrewsbury) was cruising along. Something felt amiss from a game between teams which have produced countless classics – both regular-season and postseason – in recent memory. It was almost too easy. It didn’t feel right.
Inevitably, the Tomahawks made their run, drawing within goal late in the fourth quarter. But the Pioneers wouldn’t be denied, closing out an 8-6 win over Algonquin. After the Tomahawks ended St. John’s season in each of the last two tournaments, the Pioneers finally had their day.
“We knew it’d be a battle,” St. John’s junior attack Andrew Smiley said. “It was the last time we played them … It feels great to finally beat them in the playoffs after they got us in the last two years.”
After a scoreless first quarter, the Pioneers (18-3) opened it up in the second quarter. They took a 4-1 lead into halftime and amassed a five-goal lead by 6:32 of the third, with Smiley completing a hat trick on back-to-back strikes.
Algonquin (16-7) then went on a 4-0 run, capped by Jacob Scearbo’s third of the game, to cut the deficit to one midway through the fourth.
“I knew we’d come back and push hard,” Tomahawks head coach Rich Luongo said. “This team doesn’t know how to not play hard, especially when we’re down against St. John’s.”
He continued, “It’s an ebb-and-flow game, just like basketball. Even at 6-1, I knew we’d have a run in us.”
After trading goals later in the quarter, including Scearbo’s game-high fourth, St. John’s slammed the door on Hunter Burdick’s second of the game with 1:26 remaining.
“We kind of got rattled and got out of our game plan a little bit, especially that last one that Scearbo scored,” Pioneers head coach Terry Leary said. “We said, ‘Look, stay on their shoulders, ride them top side if they’re coming from X, drive them down the alleys.’”
Throughout Algonquin’s attempted comeback, Scearbo was brilliant. Along with senior attack Keegan Gillis (2 G, 1 A), the senior midfielder practically put the team on his back, scoring all four of his goals in the second half.
Scearbo had embraced a great role within the Tomahawks’ offense ever since senior captain Davis Kraft was lost to injury during the second half of the regular season.
“We’ve worked hard with him on his drive,” Luongo said. “He’s got a very good shot when he comes over the top and, in the second half, that’s what he did. He started shooting over the top.”
After putting in the hard work and embracing his opportunity, Scearbo shined on the greatest stage.
“He’s a quality kid,” Luongo added. “He’s a kid that we say has the ‘Lax Flow.’ It’s swagger, and that’s what Scearbo has.”
BREAKING DOWN THE DOOR
After a defensive stalemate in the first quarter, the Pioneers were off and running in the second.
Smiley credited the work of St. John’s faceoff extraordinaire Connor Maloney for setting the four-goal period in motion with his draws.
“We started really pushing it in transition,” Smiley said. “Our faceoff guy, Connor Maloney, he was winning them forward. We knew we could have them in transition, so we were trying to get the most out of those opportunities as possible.”
While Algonquin bridged the face-off gap in the second half, the Pioneers were able to win the ground ball battle in the fourth quarter to close out a victory that once looked a certainty.
“We told them that we expected it to be a one-goal game,” Leary said. “That’s what we play.”
The Pioneers advance to play Grafton in the Division 2 Central final Saturday (3 p.m.) at Foley.