Top Guns Survive Nailbiters to Return to Final Four at US Lacrosse Girls' U15 National Championship
|Samantha Apuzzo scored four goals
in an 8-7 win by the Long Island Top Guns (N.Y.) over Sky Walkers
2016 (Md.) in a semifinal at the US Lacrosse U15 National
Championship, powered by Lacrosse Unlimited, Wednesday in Lake
Buena Vista, Fla.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Shannon Smith could muster only a brief chuckle after her seventh-seeded Long Island Top Guns (N.Y.) edged second-seeded Sky Walkers 2016 (Md.), 8-7, in a thriller of a quarterfinal at the fifth annual US Lacrosse U15 National Championship, powered by Lacrosse Unlimited, Wednesday at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
Relief likely the prevailing thought over the irony of the teams' third consecutive one-goal affair in the last two editions of the U15 national championship. Relief at having survived tenth-seeded NEM&D (Md.), 11-10, in a second-round nailbiter to even have a chance to knock off the defending national champions. Relief at having watched Samantha Geiersbach evade a Sky Walkers double-team on the right wing just long enough to find Darcie Smith open in front of the goal for the winner with 34.9 seconds left.
But whatever the emotion, Smith will take it as the Top Guns joined top-seeded STEPS 2016 (N.J.), fourth-seeded Yellow Jackets Blue (N.Y.) and sixth-seeded BearLax 2016 Blue (Calif.) in Thursday's final four. Semifinalists for three straight years, the Top Guns will try to gain the final for the first time.
"The girls know where we have gone here, and they want to do better than what they did," Smith said. "They want to represent their club."
They'll have that chance thanks in part to attacker Samanth Apuzzo and only after another classic against Sky Walkers. Last year in pool play, Apuzzo scored a buzzer-beater to give the Top Guns an 8-7 win over Sky Walkers. The Marylanders returned the favor in the semifinals, scoring with 22.3 seconds left in a 9-8 win that propelled them to the national championship.
Today, Apuzzo scored four goals and made the Sky Walkers pay for successive failed clears late in the second half, scooping ground balls near midfield and scoring back-to-back goals to turn a 6-5 deficit into a 7-6 lead with 8:26 remaining.
"Sam's a great leader," Smith said. "One thing we emphasize to our attackers is that when we make a mistake, make it up by re-defending really hard. That's something we've been doing well all tournament."
Sky Walkers enjoyed about a three-minute possession and got the equalizer with 1:17 to play when Mia DeRuggiero switched to her left hand to dodge Jackie Cuccurullo and score. However, a Sky Walkers teammate was called for an illegal stick, giving the Top Guns the ball without a draw control and setting the stage for Smith's winner.
Earlier, Apuzzo lit up NEM&D for six goals, including the game-winner with 4:40 to play after a thunderstorm lit up the complex and suspended the contest with 5:04 left, tied at 10. All teams sat through about a one-hour delay. Top Guns goalie Grace Beshlian sealed that win by stopping a point-blank shot by Lexi Rieu with about a minute left.
"Whenever you're playing a team from Maryland, you never know what's going to happen," said Apuzzo, who earned a spot on the all-tournament team a year ago. "There's a bunch of good girls from a bunch of good teams. We knew it would be a tough game."
The day included the event's first shutout in the quarterfinal round – Yellow Jackets Blue's 14-0 defeat of fifth-seeded Long Island Liberty (N.Y.). Yellow Jackets Blue, which won the 2010 and 2011 championships, has shut out three teams thus far and allowed just four goals in three bracket games.
"Our main thing is to pressure the ball, but if they get beat, I'm there to back them up," said Yellow Jackets Blue defender Cara Trombetta. "We pressure so teams can't get a nice shot or feed."
STEPS 2016 also has played strong defensively throughout, knocking off eighth-seeded Yellow Jackets Gold (N.Y.), 13-4, to advance to the semifinals in its first appearance. STEPS will try to complete a sweep of the Jackets at 8 a.m. Thursday.
"For us, it starts in goal," said STEPS coach Charlie Shoulberg. "Julie Krupnick is an exceptional athlete and exceptional person, as far as her work ethic goes. She shines for the other kids. They want to play hard in front of her and communicate with each other."
Krupnick made six saves in the quarterfinal win and got help at the other end from Sara Szynal (three goals, one assist) and Cassie Ford (3g).
BearLax 2016 Blue became the second team from California to reach the semifinals, joining 2010 bronze medalist Pacific Falcons from San Diego. But it wasn't easy. BearLax 2016 Blue jumped ahead of 14-seed Stars Gold (Va.), 5-1, before hanging on for a 7-6 win. Allyson Mayle scored four goals for BearLax 2016 Blue, which had trouble solving Stars Gold goalies Grace Rotondo and Ellie Garland, who combined for 10 saves.
"Ally's had a great tournament," said BearLax coach Theresa Sherry. "She's now executing. We know she has the talent, but now she's finishing shots and opportunities, and also turning a lot of heads. She's making people worry about her. It's been good for her and our offense."
BearLax 2016 Blue will put that to the test against the Top Guns in the other semifinal at 8 a.m. The championship game draws at noon.