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CARMEL, Ind. -- I started following, then covering, the sport of lacrosse for games like Cathedral (Ind.) versus Carmel (Ind.). It's one of the good old-fashion rivalries.
I think of ones like Brother Rice (Mich.)/Detroit Catholic Central (Mich.), New Trier (Ill.)/Loyola Academy (Ill.), St. Xavier (Ohio)/Archbishop Moeller (Ohio). Games with history, games with meaning, games that win state championships.
If you look over the Indiana records, Cathedral and Carmel are always involved in the state championship. Last year was the first time since 2010 that neither team was in the championship game. That's something I'm sure both Carmel's Head Coach Jack Meachum and Cathedral Head Coach Andy Gruber are looking to change.
I don't look at those two teams not being in the championship as having down years, but that the sport of lacrosse is growing in Indiana.
The defending Indiana state champion Hamilton Southeastern (Ind.) is still in the hunt this year. It just may be that the Carmel/Cathedral dominance may be harder to come by. It certainly makes for a great game, though.
Murray Stadium at Carmel was packed on a beautiful (finally) Spring Friday night. It was filled with parents, current students, and lots of college students returning from college to check out their alma maters in action. Most of the players on these two teams know each other well, some are neighbors, travel teammates, former high school teammates, and friends. That's what makes these games the best to watch. This is what high school sports are all about.
Just a side note to athletic director's, if you schedule games on Friday nights, at prime-time hours, you will see the sport and revenues grow. This stadium was packed. This is an event sport, it could be a springtime football-like experience. Tailgating, student sections, media coverage. Friday night lights can work for lacrosse.
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I'm going to say both teams came out fired up, but maybe too fired up because of a little bit of sloppy play. I've seen this time-and-time again. Adrenaline pumping a bit too hard makes for overthrown passes or moving with the ball before actually catching it.
The exuberant play eventually settled down, and the game got going in earnest. The first big play was a save by Cathedral Goalie Stuart Gomez, that got the Cathedral fans going. But just as fast, Carmel goalie Joe Gollmer made an equally impressive stop.
I thought this was going to set the tone for the game, a defensive battle with excellent goalie play. That may not have been the case as Cathedral attackman John Petruzzi broke the ice with the first goal of the game.
Moments later Petruzzi struck again to make it 2-0 Cathedral. More end-to-end play, until Cathedral freshman Kevin Berutich, threaded a beautiful pass to Nico LoPresti to give Cathedral a 3-0 lead to end the first quarter.
Carmel needed this break to regroup. The fresh quarter worked as senior captain James Stiggleman took the momentum and scored the next two goals for Carmel. Then Asher Mendell scored on a sweet dish from sophomore Meade Hicks to pull the score even at 3-3. We have a game.
Carmel took a 4-3 lead on a goal from Marcus Prine, as he came off a beautiful screen behind the cage. Back came Cathedral to tie it up (4-4) on a goal by Berutich. LoPresti added his second of the game for Cathedral to give Cathedral a 5-4 lead going into halftime.
The crowd was buzzing. This is the kind of game that can hook people into lacrosse - great back and forth action, physical defensive play, and lead changes to keep it exciting.
Coming out of halftime, Stiggleman struck again for Carmel notching his third goal of the game to tie the game at 5-5. Cathedral answered with Petruzzi's third of the game on another assist from Berutich.
Cathedral's Jim Maher made it 7-5, a Carmel goal from Nick George makes it 7-6.
Then there is Tommy Spraetz. If you follow Indiana lacrosse you know him, you know what he's going to do, but that doesn't mean you can stop him. Spraetz scored on a laser from fifteen yards out to once again knot the score at 7-7. Spraetz immediately scored again to give Carmel an 8-7 lead. Maher scores his second for Cathedral to end the third quarter with the teams tied at 8-8.
Starting the fourth quarter, Petruzzi scored his fourth goal of the game to make it 9-8 Cathedral. But Spraetz would not be stopped and tied it up at 9-9.
The tension was palpable, I had Cathedral parents on one side and Carmel parents on the other. You could see it on their faces. I just had a stupid smile on my face because I love this stuff.
Matt Dennen scored to make it 10-9 Cathedral on another great assist from Berutich. Carmel's Erik Allen, playing with an air cast on his ankle, threaded the defense and scored making it a 10-10 game. Super gutsy play by Allen.
With 1:43 left in the game Cathedral got two penalties to give Carmel a two-man advantage.
This was the moment of the game, Carmel called a time out to set up a play. Allen got the call and drove to the cage, but was stopped by Gomez. Cathedral kills the penalty.
With 47 second left, Carmel has the ball, but can't score, and Cathedral takes possession.
With 11 seconds on the clock, Cathedral's Jack Neidlinger, who played for Carmel last year, takes it to the cage and scores the game-winner. Cathedral won 11-10.
You can't script that kind of ending. Neidlinger played for Carmel his first two years, then transferred to Cathedral this year. He was teammates and is friends with the Carmel players, and he scored the game-winner. That is a storybook ending, which is why I had to give him my LaxRecords Player of the game.
There were a lot of deserving Cathedral players. Petruzzi had four goals, LoPresti and Maher each had two. Sam Bedich was dominant on the face off. Freshman Berutich had his coming out party with one goal and four assists. Gomez made some great clutch saves.
Carmel also had some stellar play. Gollmer played great in the cage, Spraetz is always a highlight reel, the tough, hard-nosed game of Allen. But the player who stuck out the most was Stiggleman. I've watched this Carmel team a lot this year. They have had some ups and downs, but one constant I've noticed is Stiggleman. He picks up teammates when they are down, calms them when they may have been a little too heated, and being the leader a team needs. For him to come in on an emotional senior night, receiving a substantial pregame ovation from teammates and fans, scoring three goals and leaving it all out there for his teammates is what it's all about. That's a leader.
So a great game in the books, but this was the regular season. The real season begins now, the playoffs.
Will these two meet again this year? It's possible, but there is a game HSE team waiting to defend their title and other up-and-comers who may spoil the party.
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