SOUTH HAMILTON — They make it look easy. Almost too easy.
Truth be told, there's a lot of behind the scenes work that goes into making the Pingree boys lacrosse team the prep school powerhouse that it is.
The months of grinding to be the best they can be, the repeated drills so that they become muscle memory, and the daily battles between talented teammates on the turf all take place for one reason: to help the Highlanders retain their New England championship.
For the fifth straight year, they're now one step away from doing so after blasting Dexter Southfield, 21-5, in the McCoy Cup semifinals Wednesday afternoon.
Junior attack Johnny Crehan powered the offense with seven goals and an assist as Pingree (now 18-2) raced out to a 8-1 lead after one quarter and never looked back. The four-time defending prep school champs also received a stellar defensive showing in front of netminder Clayton Smith (8 saves), making sure Dexter never had a sniff of climbing back into the contest.
"The hardest part of the game is being mentally prepared and patient," head coach Kevin Tersolo said. "If the players feel like there should be a smooth process, it's where we become sloppy, we don't play disciplined, and we allow teams to run with us that we feel shouldn't.
"Today, that didn't happen. We played four really good quarters where we kept up the pressure."
It's that team-wide commitment to remaining sharp and focused against any and all foes that has Pingree aiming for its fifth straight New England crown.
"The success we've been fortunate to have here, it's all about buying in," said Crehan, a Manchester by the Sea native. "There's a reason why our coach does certain things the way he does and is hard on someone when he needs to be: because you're only going to learn through someone telling you straight up what you're doing wrong face to face."
"At this point, we expect to be here," senior captain and defensive star Grant Latimer, who'll continue his career at Division 1 Providence College, added. "This is one of the most talented teams we've ever had. But you still have to go out and execute and do what you've worked on to get to this point.
"Defensively, we put a lot of emphasis on playing as an entire unit, from the three close poles to the LSM and two D middies," Latimer added. "The personnel is going to change, but we work really hard to communicate each time and stay unified out there. It all starts with communication."
Sophomore Billy Stevens was virtually automatic on faceoffs, winning 26-of-30 on Wednesday and giving his team constant possession. Pingree used that to run up a 14-2 halftime lead and 17-3 after three quarters.
"When you can dominate at the faceoff X like Billy did," said Tersolo, "that's a game changer. As great as we are defensively, we're so skilled on the offensive side and when we get possession and those guys get hot offensively, we're tough to stop."
Brendan Driscoll, another junior attack headed to Providence on scholarship, added three goals and two assists in the win while senior attack Tucker Spencer had three goals — including a spectacular, no-look, over his head tally with his back to the netminder — to go along with one helper.
"That was all him; Tucker made that work," said Crehan, who assisted on the snipe. He's been offered by Division 1 schools Quinnipiac, UMass Lowell and Merrimack, but is still weighing his college options with the summer lacrosse season on the horizon.
"You just have to put it to space with players like him and they'll somehow make it happen."
David Taylor (2 goals, assist), Hazen Pike (2 goals), Colton Fahey and Enzo Caruso (each with a goal and 2 assists), Kenny Offner (goal), Will Halecki (goal), Stevens (2 assists) and Jack Feeks (assist) also recorded points. Kyle McCarthy off the wing and short stick mids Tim Dowd and Offner were also essential in helping Pingree dominant for the full 48 minutes.
Pingree will now face West champion Hamden Hall in Friday's McCoy Cup championship game at Worcester Academy (2 p.m.).
"Playing for a championship is the reason why you play. I'm always ready for that," said Latimer.