READING — Austin Prep’s boys lacrosse squad couldn’t have asked for a better start in Monday night’s Division 3 North semifinal against Bishop Fenwick. 

Thanks in large part to their work at the faceoff-X (8-for-10 in first half), the Cougars dominated possession early and in turn, took a six goal lead by halftime. 

Fenwick came out with a vengeance to cut the deficit back to just two, but ultimately ran out of gas in what was a 16-7 setback in the North playoffs.

Without their go-to faceoff guy Sean Roach, who suffered a torn ACL in last week’s win over Northeast, Fenwick was limited in terms of the draws.

“We definitely struggled at the faceoff-X; they have some great faceoff kids. But Garrett (Ruszkowski) played outstanding,” Fenwick head coach Steve Driscoll said of his goalie. “He hurt his thumb pretty bad yesterday in practice, so it was definitely going to be an uphill battle. (Austin Prep) just has scorers and shooters from all over the place and him being able to sit back there and take some shots ... he’s an absolute warrior and I’m so proud of him.” 

Trailing 7-1 at the half, Driscoll preached to his team to play like it was 0-0 and just worry about the current possession. For the better part of the third quarter, that mindset and mentality paid off. 

Ian Worthley’s goal with eight minutes to play in the frame started a five-goal unanswered spree that got Fenwick back within striking distance at 8-6 with plenty of time showing on the game clock. Nico Pascuito (2), Nick Muzi and Brian Harrington also scored during the run and the Crusaders were back to playing some inspired lacrosse on both ends of the field. 

But Fenwick’s defense, which had been grinding pretty much the entire first half and appeared to be running out of steam, ultimately couldn’t contain the plethora of AP threats. The Cougars responded with five unanswered markers of their own to all but put the contest out of reach. 

“When we start really moving the ball and playing offensive our offensive guys, our attackman, our midfielders, they really get us going,” said Driscoll. “We talk about the guys in between the 30’s off the faceoff getting ground balls and when we start winning those we start being able to do our thing on offense and give our defense a break ... because man, they played that entire first half.

“Joe Rivers, John Bernbaum, Brett Ross ... can’t say enough about them,” the coach continued. “They led us the entire year but they were just gassed, they were exhausted and rightly should have been.”

Muzi was able to get one more to drop for Fenwick in the fourth on an assist from Derek Delvecchio, but it was too little too late as the hosts had already jumped in front by six at that point. 

The loss certainly stings now, but for a Crusaders team and senior class, the compete they showed this season and the results they yielded will go a long way for future Fenwick squads. 

“I can’t thank those guys enough for building this program,” said Driscoll, who wrapped up his fourth season as head coach. “They jumped in when I was a first year coach and man, they’re the reason why we’re here. They’re the reason why we have 17 wins and they’re the reason why this program has been elevated to this point. I love every single one of them and I’m going to miss the hell out of them.”

Fenwick waves goodbye to six seniors: Delvecchio, Ruszkowski, Ross, Harrington, Elias Clark Goldfeld and Eric Martino. At least two of them will go on to play college lacrosse (Ruszkowski will play goalie at Maine Maritime and Delvecchio at Emmanual).