GRAY—The last play doesn’t always matter.

It did, though, when Gray-New Gloucester welcomed Maranacook/Winthrop/Spruce Mountain on Wednesday, Jun 12 – in fact, it mattered a lot.

G-NG standout keeper Brannon Gilbert chases an incoming ball. Adam Birt / Lakes Region Weekly

Down 5-4, the Patriots needed to score to force OT; in possession with time running low, they planned and pulled off a pretty Scott-Lynch-to-Travis-Caron-to-Kyle Mercier pass series. Mercier took the shot – and it nearly found its mark.

Nearly wasn’t enough, however. The buzzer tolled on a 5-4, G-NG defeat – a season-ending defeat, since the bout was a playoffs semifinal.

The Patriots retire till 2020 at 11-3.

“One of our key focuses going into the game was ground balls,” G-NG head coach Kris Parkin said. “We watched [Winthrop/Maranacook/Spruce Mtn.] play Oak Hill, and we watched them out-ground-ball Oak Hill. I think we did a very good job.”

G-NG did play excellent lacrosse. But some things – one or more – must have gone less-than-optimally. Parkin identified a factor: “Penalties hurt us,” he said. “Not necessarily that they scored on their man-up, it just took the ball out of our sticks. There was probably six, eight minutes that we didn’t have any opportunity.”

On the attack for G-NG, JJ Mazur ducks a Hawks defender. Adam Birt / Lakes Region Weekly

The Patriots began the game on the attack, setting up a good perimeter and hashing a couple quality attempts, including one by Mercier. When the Hawks forced them back on defense, they played conservatively – both teams played careful, watchful defense, really. Perhaps they sensed just how tight this game was destined to be, and didn’t want to take any chances.

All that defensive caution kept the score low – kept it at 0-0 until midway through the first, in fact. Finally, at 5:48, Patriot JJ Mazur, lurking behind the Hawks’ net, dished out front to Mercier for a redirect strike: 1-0.

Four minutes later, the Hawks chewed up and spat out that narrow differential, Garit Laliberte beating G-NG netminder Brannon Gilbert from the left side, across to the right post.

The Patriots methodically inched ahead of their guests after that, building as healthy a lead as either team would get all afternoon: two measly goals. Four minutes into the second quarter, the ball squirted out to the sideline, where G-NG middie Gabe Gendreau snatched it up. Gendreau’s grab led, 30 seconds later, to a Lynch feed, a Caron goal and 2-1.

Two and a half further minutes elapsed. The Hawks turned the ball over on an infraction, and Gendreau capitalized on the mistake, carrying to the top-left of the Hawks’ zone and firing low through traffic for 3-1.

Daniel Stash carries for G-NG. Adam Birt / Lakes region Weekly

“Offensively, we executed pretty well,” Parkin said. “Maybe a little more patience at times would’ve helped us…We had some transition opportunities early, and then we had a bit more difficulty moving the ball. Getting a little sloppy with turnovers.”

But the Hawks weren’t about to go quietly into the night: Ian Dow scored over Gilbert with 6:21 to play in the third, and Tim Worster relayed a feed past Gilbert about a minute and a half into the fourth, flattening the score at 4-all.

Beau Schmelzer then nabbed the Hawks’ first lead of the night, scoring the 4-3 notch out of a melee on Gilbert’s doorstep. Now the Patriots needed to battle back.

They did: They doubled-down on the attack and dug up more shots, including several out of Drew LaCerda. LaCerda’s an offensive powerhouse, but the Hawks had done well keeping him quiet to that point.

“With any player, if the touches are limited, and the way our offense is – it spins one direction – Drew gets pulled into the crease a lot more if we’re not attacking from the four corners,” Parkin said. “Really, the message to Drew was: ‘Get busy, get active.’ We worked all week on him dodging – showing topside and rolling back to his off-hand, which is his right hand. He shoots righty fantastic; he’s so strong with both hands. But he’s been hesitant to use that right hand.”

Actually, even firing at every opportunity from high on the right side, LaCerda still couldn’t convert – at least, it took him four or five fiery tries to. Putting the ball on his stick over and over finally paid off for G-NG with 6:26 to go: With the Hawks man-down following a slash, LaCerda side-armed the 4-4 tally past keeper Will Hays.

The ensuing minutes played out tensely: The Patriots took another turn on the attack, with Hunter Brown shoving a Hawks defender out of the way and making room for Gendreau to swoop in, grab a ground ball and keep them in possession. But G-NG couldn’t find a way past Hays.

Gabe Gendreau shoulders into a Hawks opponent. Adam Birt / Lakes Region Weekly

Neither could the Hawks find a way past Gilbert, though. Gilbert turned big saves throughout the game, including at 4:03 and 2:16 of that final, fateful quarter. Still, when the Patriots went man-down around 1:30, the Hawks managed to hop on top, Skyler Boucher doing the 5-4 deed.

The Hawks won the follow-up faceoff, but turned the ball over on an infraction in the midfield. LaCerda logged a quality shot, but Hays proved up to the challenge. Caron snagged Hays’s clearing pass out of midair to give his boys another go, and Parkin called timeout – less than a minute remained.

When the Patriots returned to the field, they had a play in mind, one they executed beautifully. Lynch carried the ball behind the Hawks’ net, flipping it onto Caron’s stick as they crossed paths there. Caron then shoveled out front for Mercier – and Mercier fired. Hays came up big once more, however, blocking the low shot in the grass.

“We played with a lot of intensity, with maximum effort the whole game,” Parkin said. “We did everything well. It’s just a game of inches, and we couldn’t find the net. We found the stick quite a bit.”

Hays cleared, but a nimble Patriot swiped the ball at midfield and G-NG dashed forward for one last try. LaCerda reeled in the ball at his favorite snipering spot, but instead of pulling the trigger, opted for the unexpected: He relayed to Mercier, cutting in at the center. The ball, though, refused to settle in Mercier’s stick and bounced to the ground.

The buzzer buzzed. The Hawks had won.

Parkin took a moment to applaud some of his boys. “The defense played exceptionally well today,” he said. “They kept a lot of pressure off Brannon early. Then Brannon stood on his own and made some good saves down the stretch.”

“I’m proud of the boys,” Parkin said. “They’ve worked hard all year. We’re graduating a very good group of seniors that have been great role models in school and on the field, talented kids that are going to be hard to replace. It’s a little bittersweet. While we’ve had a good year, it’s hard to see it end.”

G-NG’s Kyle Mercie, defeated, kneels in the grass as Hawks rush past to celebrate their victory. Adam Birt / Lakes Region Weekly

Gilbert, Mercier, Lawson Dunford, Jake Hines, Wyatt Edwards, Mazur and Kyle Curtis are the team’s seniors.

The Patriots and the Hawks did not meet in the regular season. Parkin tipped his cap to Winthrop/Maranacook/Spruce Mountain: “Hats off to those guys. They deserve to be playing Saturday.” The Hawks went on to face NYA in the State Championship, ultimately falling.

It’s worth noting – for the hundredth time, give or take – that the G-NG program is still young: The Patriots only joined the varsity ranks last year. They did well in their inaugural run, making playoffs and besting their first-ever postseason opponent, Erskine. Alas, they fell to North Yarmouth in their second-round bout.

This year, G-NG improved on their record and pushed deeper into the bracketing. So they have much to be satisfied with.

“It takes a village,” Parkin said. “We’ve got fantastic support from the parents, from the coaches that come out – some of them volunteer. We’ve really got a great community; they’ve embraced lacrosse in Gray-New Gloucester and it’s made a difference.”

“I think the boys themselves see themselves as to a lot of the younger guys and the club team guys,” Parkin said. “Likewise, the younger guys look up to the older guys. They [see them having success] at the high school level and I think it’s a big motivator. Hopefully it will keep the momentum going in the program.”

Adam Birt can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @CurrentSportsME.


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