DANVERS — It was a play that St. John’s Prep had practiced for the last three years as part of its man down clear, but never once had it worked.
Until Monday night.
The play — called ‘Shotgun Clear’ — saw goaltender Alex Kreher fire a long pass over midfield and into the waiting stick of teammate Sean Gilbert. Alone on a breakaway with his team down a man, Gilbert cut towards the Central Catholic net, deked the goaltender and scored a momentum shifting goal, sending the Prep sidelines into delirium.
It was one of the highlights of the evening for the top seeded hosts, who took down Central, 12-7, in the Division 1 North semifinals before an overflow crowd at Glatz Field.
“We ran that play when I was at Providence College 15-20 years ago; it’s designed to be a fast break like that when you’re killing off a penalty,” said Prep head coach John Pynchon, his team improving to 18-3. “But before tonight, it had never worked.
“Hey Jake!” Pynchon yelled to senior attackman Jake Surette, who was standing nearby. “How many times has Shotgun Clear worked in the three years you’ve been here?’”
“And when did that happen, Jake?”
“It just worked tonight,” Pynchon continued. “Gilbert was wide open and did exactly what he was supposed to do. Alex hit him with that pass and holy cow, it helped turn the game in our favor.”
This contest, played between two schools that are rivals in most sports, took on a much deeper meaning that a simple playoff game. Central Catholic was playing just two days after one of his own, junior Ryan Driscoll, died from injuries suffered in a weekend auto accident. The Raiders’ lacrosse player was just 16 years old.
Central Catholic (17-4) head coach Chris Piatelli said he and the school administration had spoken with the Driscoll family about the possibility of postponing the game, but they encouraged them to play as scheduled.
“For the Driscoll family and for our boys, it wasn’t even a question of us playing the game,” said Piatelli. “They wanted to carry on Ryan’s legacy and play.”
An overflow crowd from Central Catholic on hand serenaded their team after the game with the school’s fight song as the players linked arms and faced the crowd, with tears flowing freely among fans, players and coaches. St. John’s Prep’s players also went over towards the Central fan section postgame and gave them a standing ovation.
The game itself was a tug of war where emotions ran high and penalties flew for both teams much of the night, disrupting the flow. Two big factors favored the Eagles in the long run: they took and early lead and never trailed, forcing fourth seeded Central to play catch up the entire night.
St. John’s Prep also had arguably the state’s best faceoff man in Craig Yannone, who won all but one of the draws he took (Graham Tyson was also 3-for-3 at the X subbing for Yannone). Constantly having possession not only helped the hosts generate offense, but kept Central from creating it at the same time.
Seven different players had goals for the Eagles, with junior Michael Ott scoring three times along with an assist. Seniors Wes Rockett and Surette both had two (with Surette adding an assist), as did sophomore middie Michael Kelly. Senior mid Luke Brennan and junior attack Brian Souza each finished with a goal and an assist for the winners, with Gilbert also scoring.
Kreher had seven of his nine saves for St. John’s in the second half, including a terrific point blank stop on Central senior attackman Nathan Nutter (2 goals) with just 1:55 to play to essentially shut the door for good on the visitors.
Central, which tied the game at 2-2 on the first of Nutter’s two goals before Rockett gave St. John’s the lead for good, had a strong performance in net from senior keeper David Olsen (9 saves), who had the initials ‘R.D’’ written on a white wrap around his right leg.
Captain Chase Dunn added two scores and a helper for the Raiders, with junior Shane McInnis producing one of each. Senior Deven DeBay and junior Connor Finneran also scored; Michael Finneran contributed two assists.
“We just had to keep our composure and keep executing,” said Pynchon, whose team will host the winner of Tuesday’s other sectional semifinal between Lincoln-Sudbury and Acton-Boxborough back at St. John’s on Friday (5 p.m.) for the North final. “We were able to hold it together, which is what these seniors do. Trent (Tully), Luke Brennan, Wes, Ben Grunes, Nick Hayman, Coltan Tangney ... they’re outstanding young men who do an outstanding job of what we ask them to do.”