By Phil Stacey
---- — BEVERLY — Don’t poke the ... Panthers?
If yesterday’s 16-4 thrashing of visiting Peabody is any barometer, that phrase certainly applies to the Beverly High lacrosse team.
Seemingly on a mission after suffering their first conference loss in four seasons two days beforehand, the Panthers came out with laser-like focus yesterday and never let up, dominating a very good Tanner squad from start to finish.
Peabody won the opening faceoff, gained possession and took it into the Beverly zone — and promptly threw the ball away. Before the visitors knew it, the Panthers ripped off five straight goals to take a lead they’d never relinquish. Peabody never got any closer than four the rest of the way; at one point Beverly’s lead swelled to 11 goals.
“We have a team that’s made up of a lot of different guys from other (sports) programs here at the high school who are used to winning,” said senior captain Brendan Flaherty, who powered the Panther offense with five goals and two assists yesterday. “We hate losing more than we like to win. So after that game Tuesday (a 5-4 loss at Marblehead), everyone was mentally focused in practice (Wednesday) and carried that over into (yesterday’s) game. Every single guy did his part to help us win.”
Beverly (10-2 overall) not only had its way offensively, with talented marksman Nick Albano adding four goals and a helper and captain Dom Abate scoring once and assisting on five others, but was also stellar defensively. Andrew Irving, Ty Martz and Mike Dooling put the clamps on two of the state’s leading scorers, Peabody attackmen Keifer Heckman and Nick Ouellette.
The Panthers held Peabody’s pair a combined two goals and three assists (with two of those points coming with 30 seconds to play).
“We challenged our defense to hold Keifer and Nick to five points, and that’s exactly what they did,” said Beverly veteran coach John Pynchon. “The defense has really exceeded our expectations.
“Today was good for us because we set the tone with a fast start in the first eight minutes. We had possession for most of the day and cashed in on our chances.”
The play of midfielder Conor Leahy on faceoffs was also enormous in terms of Beverly’s success; by winning the majority of his draws, he enabled his team to have near-constant possession.
In addition, netminder Kevin Lally (9 saves) stopped several point-blank shots, ensuring that Beverly never lost its comfortable advantage. His save percentage remains around 70 percent for the season, numbers rarely posted by a high school lacrosse goalie.
His counterpart in the Tanners’ goal, Evan Connolly, was far busier; if not for his spectacular play, Peabody’s margin of defeat would’ve been much, much greater.
“It just seemed like we didn’t come to play,” said Peabody (8-5) head coach Tony O’Donnell, whose team needs two victories in its last seven games to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in four years.
“Beverly really was ready. They hadn’t seen much zone the first time we played them (a 9-8 Beverly win last month), but Marblehead plays the exact same zone we do so they had plenty of time to get ready for it this time around. They played great; we just never possessed the ball.”
Ouellette scored to get Peabody on the board early in the second quarter, making it 5-1, but Beverly went on another tear, scoring the next three goals to make it 8-1 at halftime. The lead swelled to 13-2 after three quarters as eight different Panthers registered at least a point.
Junior attackman Matt Page added three goals for the Orange-and-Black while Brian Williams (2 assists), Ricky McFarland and Ryan Shipp — arguably Beverly’s best player — also scored. Irving had a dazzling assist on Shipp’s goal; the long stick defenseman weaved his way upfield and around Peabody’s defense before dishing off at the last second for the score.
In addition to Heckman (1 goal, 2 assists) and Ouellette (1 goal, 1 assist), Peabody got goals from Eric Hennessey and Josh Fiore, with Mike Vadala and Fiore adding assists. Captain Andrew Najjar also turned in a solid effort for the Tanners.