- Scott Barboza, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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SHREWSBURY, Mass. – Although St. John’s (Shrewsbury) threatened to run away with Thursday’s game against BC High, scoring five goals in the second quarter, including a string of three straight to close out the half, the Pioneers were sweating out the final moments.
No. 13 St. John’s held on for a 10-9 victory, as the No. 8 Eagles scored two times within the final minute of the game
“We had just played eight minutes of gorgeous defense in the fourth quarter,” Pioneers head coach Terry Leary said, “but then we had three minutes where we started spreading out and giving them things underneath.”
The Pioneers (3-0) distanced themselves in the second, after a pretty even first quarter, where St. John’s took a 3-1 lead.
St. John’s built its lead on the strength of the effort of face-off man Connor Maloney. While winning 13 of his 16 draws on the day, Maloney came out with five of the six draws put down in the second, when the Pioneers pulled away with three straight goal to close the half within the span of 47 seconds.
After BC High (3-2) whittled the lead to one on a Sam Friedman goal, St. John’s took off with Maloney dominating the X. Jared Ward ripped in one of his four goals on the game off a split dodge with 2:10 remaining in the half. Then, returning Central Mass. All-American Andrew Smiley popped his second of three goals on the afternoon before Andrew Cox rounded out scoring in the second – set up by yet another faceoff win by Maloney.
“They were double-poling the midfield,” Leary said on the faceoff matchup. “That was a huge difference-maker because I thought early on both teams were jittery, or the wind, but we were throwing balls away. But then in the second quarter, that was all the difference in the world when we made our run.”
While the Pioneers favored a disciplined, ball-control attack in the third quarter, some sloppy play caught with up them in the fourth, leaving the door open for the Eagles to rebound.
After Connor Rocco netted St. John’s 10th of the game on a feed from Ward (5 points) with 7:58 to play, BC High closed to within a goal, as Mark McGolderick and Pat Cronin (2 G, 2A) scored twice within 32 seconds, leaving 13 seconds remaining on the board for the equalizer.
Again, Maloney came up big, winning the pivotal draw at game’s end – a fitting end to a stellar day.
“On the faceoff, we were tying to stop them from pinching and popping forward,” Eagles head coach Tim Kelly said. “You can’t let them get a clean a clean faceoff – at the very least, make it a 50-50 ball.”
Rounding into form?: Leary added that Thursday’s game marked the first that he had Smiley – the Navy recruit and returning All-State lacrosse performer, in addition to football – back to full strength, after an early season injury.
“The offense was adjusting to that, but we look at it in each of two ways,” Leary said. “If our transition is arrested, teams push out and become aggressive, we tell our guys they have the green light and they can go. That’s what happened in the second quarter, what I call some easy goals – in that we didn’t have to set up. They’re a very good, aggressive pre-slide team and we got some easy ones in transition before they could set up.”
On Thursday, the beneficiary of those alleys was Ward, who showed no fear taking on the cage and a good nose for the goal.
After graduating several of its top scorers from a year ago, it’s the type of performance St. John’s will need to stage yet another deep Division 2 tournament run.
“Every team is going to come early to Drew [Smiley], so if we’re not ready to receive, move the ball and re-attack, we’re not going to be successful,” Leary said.
Notes: Sophomore attack A.J. Kucinski led the Eagles with four goals. … As momentous Maloney's faceoff wins during the second quarter proved to be, the Eagles were kept at bay as well with Steven Kerr making five saves during the quarter in the Pioneers' cage. ... BC High’s man-up was working in fine form, netting three goals in four man-up situations. … The Eagles will need a better effort from the faceoff unit on Saturday, as they travel to face No. 2 Longmeadow (3 p.m.), which boasts one of the top faceoff winners in the state in midfielder Drew Kelleher.