WESTMINSTER — Perhaps Linganore’s perennially strong boys lacrosse team was in for a down year.
That’s what the Lancers figured people thought heading into this season. But as usual, Linganore piled up wins.
And once again, the Lancers had the look of a team that was fully capable of reaching the state tournament. They still had that look in the final minute of Wednesday’s back-and-forth regional championship game, in fact.
Thanks to two quick goals by Roman LaRocco, the Lancers only trailed unbeaten Westminster, which ousted them in last year’s region final, by one goal when they gained possession with 50 seconds left.
But Linganore turned the ball over with about 15 seconds left, and the host Owls held on for 15-14 win in the Class 3A West region championship game.
Following a timeout with 11.4 seconds left, Westminster’s Chris Etchison held on to the ball and threw it the length of the field as the final seconds ticked off, denying Linganore’s bid to reach the state tournament for the third time in the past four seasons.
When these teams met in last year’s regional final, the Owls won in overtime. This time, the defending state champs barely avoided the extra period in a game that had already featured five ties.
“It’s tough because we lost to them again by one point,” Linganore senior long-stick midfielder Jon Wheat said. “But we put it all on the field. We came back again, all the way to the final seconds. It’s just a heartbreaking loss.”
Three-goal leads by both teams had already been erased, and the Lancers were trying to accomplish that feat again when they trailed 15-12 heading into the final 2½ minutes.
“You could just feel the tension,” Westminster coach Steve DeFeo said.
LaRocco, Linganore’s top scorer, had to contend most of the night with tight defense by Westminster’s Andrew Burns and tough saves by goalie Logan Covey. But LaRocco found a way to help his team mount a comeback, scoring at the 2:14 and 1:31 marks.
“I was just thinking, ‘We’ve got two minutes left in our season if I don’t try to do something here,’” he said. “So, I just figured, I don’t want to look back on this game and feel like I left something out here.”
Following a Westminster turnover, Linganore got possession with 50 seconds left but couldn’t get off a shot before committing a turnover.
“We were making a run,” Linganore FOGO-midfielder Will Coletti said. “Unfortunately we had a turnover at the end, the ball bounced the wrong way, we got an unlucky bounce. Westminster’s a great team.”
A team that knew it had just faced an enormous test.
“This game here, I think this one’s going to be one for the memory books,” said DeFeo, praising the toughness of both teams. “This is definitely one where — and last year, too — somebody’s got to come out on top, and I’m just glad it was us.”
One of Linganore’s key weapons is Coletti, who excels at winning faceoffs. That facet of the game helped the Lancers erase a 3-0 deficit and lead 7-4 midway through the second quarter.
But in the second quarter, the Owls had sent freshman Alex Steers into the faceoff circle, where he tried to tie up Coletti for several — and sometimes many — seconds until teammates arrived to battle for the loose ball. The freshman dug in with his foot and held tight.
“He was putting his foot out; I’m not used to that. He did great job,” Coletti said. “I was just trying my hardest to win every faceoff.”
Coletti still helped the Lancers win 20 of 32 faceoffs, but Steers helped make sure the Lancers didn’t dominate possession.
With Westminster leading 12-10 on the opening faceoff of the fourth quarter, Coletti and Steers were locked together with the ball between them for more than 30 seconds.
“You don’t see that very often,” said Westminster assistant coach Scott Steers, who specializes in faceoffs. “We knew what we needed to do was try to go 50-50 with him, and at least tie him up and make a chance for a three-on-three ground ball or tie him long enough to get our wings in there.”
Westminster (17-0) took the lead for good when Conner Covey, Logan’s twin brother, scored on a Bubba Love assist with 5:44 left, making it 13-12. Covey scored again to put the Owls up 15-12, providing crucial goals on a night when his brother was doing a good job of preventing them, finishing with 20 saves.
“The goalie made some rarely great saves on me, which makes you think a little bit as a shooter, throws you off a little bit,” LaRocco said. “He’s probably one of the best goalies in the state.”
LaRocco led the Lancers with six goals and one assist. Cole Blanche had four goals, and Coletti (three goals, two assists) had three. Goalie Ayden Bawcombe had 12 saves.
The Lancers finish with a 14-3 record.
“We had a great group of coaches and a great group of kids that worked their rear ends off,” Linganore coach Rich Thompson said.
That work enabled the Lancers to remain a power despite losing several key players, including their top two scorers, from last year’s team.
“At the beginning of the year, no one thought we were going to be good, everyone wrote us out,” Coletti said. “But the seniors brought us up, brought the culture up, and we made a hell of a run. That’s all you could ask for.”