WESTWOOD, Mass. – Lukas Buckley picked the perfect time to find his scoring touch.
The sophomore attacker stepped up in overtime with a 12-yard rocket past BC High goalie DJ Barrile to win Saturday’s semifinal for Xaverian, 8-7, and send the Hawks to Harvard Stadium for their first Division 1 Eastern Mass. final since 2007.
“I was a little surprised because I haven’t scored a lot this year, but I just got lucky and it went in. So, I’m pretty fired up,” said Buckley following the game.
He added, “We knew that we could win it. I mean, we just work hard and grind it out. We knew we could get it and that’s what happened.”
After a scoreless third period, the teams entered the fourth quarter tied at 4-4. The Eagles (12-10) seemed to take control of the game when Patrick Kearney scored his second goal of the afternoon less than a minute in. With 8:07 remaining, senior Alex O’Brien made it 6-4 for the Eagles on a low angle shot from close range.
But the Hawks (15-6) came right back.
A minute after O’Brien’s goal, Jake Cox got one back on a hard shot through traffic. At 5:46 of the fourth quarter, Jack Wheeler spun to his left and tied it with an unstoppable shot just inside the post. Two minutes later, Xaverian took a 7-6 lead when harry Walsh stormed straight down the middle of the BC High defense and planted his shot past Barrile.
The comeback would not be the end of the drama.
BC High freshman attack A.J. Kucinski took a perfect feed from O’Brien on a backdoor cut and scored from point-blank range. Only 14 seconds later, Wheeler thought that he had won the game only to have his goal waved off for being in the crease.
Instead, the winning goal was left up to Buckley in overtime. After the Hawks won the face-off in the extra period, Xaverian possessed the ball for nearly two minutes and created two solid scoring chances that were repelled by Barrile. The ball came loose to Ryan McLellan, who found Buckley wide open in the middle and he did not waste the opportunity.
Xaverian head coach Tim Gardner explained after the game that he did not feel that a timeout was needed when the Hawks won possession and praised his team’s grit for coming through under pressure.
“Win the face-off is first. You have to dig deep on the face-off…just get possession, settle down and run some ‘O,’ you know. We got several chances in that last offensive set, a couple ground balls that we needed to dig out, but re-formed ourselves and worked the slides that we wanted to work.”
He also noted that the play that freed up Buckley was one that the team has been working on for several games and Gardner was glad to see Buckley make the most of the chance.
“We’ve kind of been running the invert play from behind the last couple of games and we knew that they were going to come down hard and you have to leave somebody open on that,” he remarked. “They chose to come off of Lukas, who practices that shot maybe a thousand times a day and just happened to get in the situation that you want.
Xaverian jumped out to the early lead in the game on Wheeler’s first of the night in the first quarter. B.C. High came right back to tie it on Kucinski’s first goal only three minutes later. The Hawks would then grab momentum and a 3-1 lead on goals by Shayne Kaminski, who also won the face-off in overtime, and Eric Backus. The lead was short-lived as the Eagles came right back thanks to a pair of goals from Sam Friedman.
Both teams would get another goal apiece in the second quarter, Xaverian’s from D.J. Sperzel and BC High’s from Kearney. It went into halftime at 4-4, thanks in large part to the play of Eagles goalie Barrile, who finished with 21 saves in the game.
Head coach Tim Kelly admitted after the game that his shot stopper was one of the main reasons that his team had the chance to try and win the game in the fourth quarter.
Kelly said, “Xaverian did a great job of just possessing the ball on offense. They had the ball so much and DJ Barrile kept us in it. He’s not going to beat you in any sprints, but he’s going to stop the ball and that’s what we ask him to do.”
Gardner praised his team resiliency in the fourth quarter to come from behind and give itself a chance to compete against the top seed, Lincoln-Sudbury, in Wednesday’s final.
He commented, “They’re athletes; they want to win. They knew that if they stayed patient and stuck with the plan…and they just grind it out. Playing the schedule that we do, it gives you a little bit of confidence that you’ll pull through in those situations.
Xaverian stunned Needham in the last round and after the win over the Eagles, many of the Hawks spoke about exceeding the expectations that had been placed on the team.
Jack Wheeler noted, “It feels great. We were projected fourth in the Catholic Conference going into the season. So, we’re just proving people wrong I guess.”
Xaverian will face Lincoln-Sudbury in the D1 EMass final at Harvard Stadium on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.