WORCESTER, Mass. – It was a perfect finish in more ways than one.
Tied 6-6 heading into the fourth quarter of Friday’s Division 2 state championship boys’ lacrosse game, West sectional champion Longmeadow had to hunker down against Eastern Mass. champion Medfield. The Lancers, who’d beaten the Warriors by 15 goals during the teams’ regular season meeting, knew they were going to see a different Medfield team and had gotten exactly what they expected – a tight game.
That’s when Keegan Dudeck made a lasting impression.
Already netting a hat trick in the first half alone, the Lancers senior midfielder started the fourth quarter with back-to-back goals, setting in motion a string of three straight Longmeadow goals in its 10-7 victory over Medfield at Foley Stadium.
The Lancers finish the season with a perfect 25-0 record while delivering their first state title since the 2008 season.
“Whey that they weren’t going to make it a 16-1 game again,” Dudeck said, recalling the Lancers’ drubbing of the Warriors in May. “Before the game, we told the team not to be too overconfident and make sure that weren’t not too cocky because this team was going to come out and they wanted it as bad as we wanted it.”
Truer to the capabilities of both sides, the teams spent the better part of three quarters exchanging the lead or tied. It wasn’t until Dudeck’s fifth goal of the game, scored at 8:38 of the fourth, that either team established a lead of more than one goal. Soon after Drew Kelleher provided the Lancers with a three-goal lead and they wouldn’t look back.
“If teams go on a three- or four-goal run on us, we’re usually able to punch back, but we weren’t able to, Warriors head coach John Isaf said. “We thought we were right where we wanted to be entering the fourth quarter. We’ve always pulled out games in the fourth quarter this year. That was the plan, it just didn’t happen.”
Putting a painful loss in the back mirror, Medfield (22-4) jumped out to a lead 1:43 into play with senior captain Andrew Melvin (1 G, 1 A) hitting the cutting Tyler Hagan. And while the Warriors put forward a much-improved offensive showing the second time around, including two-goal games from Matt Crowell and Thomas Sears, the Lancers’ finishing touch proved too much.
Despite being held without a goal in the third quarter, the Lancers rode the momentum gained by Dudeck’s early fourth-quarter strikes.
It was simply a performance fitting of one of the state’s top talents this year.
“He’s been fighting through an injury for the last two, three weeks,” Lancers head coach Ryan Liebel said. “He’s fought through it. He tries to get open, he’s our hardest worker and one of the best players on our team. When it came down to it, he was able to get that ball and put it in the net.”
“Dudeck was phenomenal off-ball. He was moving, he was cutting, he was shifty.”
In short, he did a little bit of everything that meant a whole lot.
RETURN TO THE BIG STAGE
The Western Mass. powerhouse turned in its first championship in five year under the direction of a first-year head coach. Liebel, a Longmeadow alumnus who previously coached at Belchertown, is no stranger to the program.
But perhaps things came together quicker than anyone could have anticipated. With only four seniors on the roster this year, the Lancers had to rely on consistent contributions from its underclassmen.
“They stepped up huge for us today,” said senior Kevin Barry, who led the Lancers in goals during the regular season, “especially our midfielders, they’re young. Our attacks are freshmen and juniors and they played amazing.”
While Friday marks the crowning achievement for Barry, Dudeck and their fellow graduates Eric Barsalou and Noah Gurzenski, don’t write off the Lancers bid at a repeat performance in 2014.
A LESSER VICTORY
While Medfield ultimately struck out on the title bid, the Eastern champions went down swinging.
After Friday night’s game, Isaf recalled the somber ride from Longmeadow back home on May 12, his team trying to come to terms with what had just unfolded.
“I think everybody had to reflect and decide what we were going to about it,” he said.
The resolve was clear. Following the 15-goal loss to Longmeadow, Medfield finished the regular season with four straight wins, including one against Division 1 power St. John’s Prep. Entering Friday’s action and including the postseason, the Warriors had built a nine-game winning streak, falling just one quarter shy of their ultimate goal.
That’s a point that wasn’t lost on their coach.
“From that point forward, we played our best lacrosse of the season,” Isaf said. “And tonight, we wanted to show them that wasn’t us back in May. I’m really proud of this team how they rallied and rebounded from that.”