Coming into Saturday’s opener against Southington, the Cheshire High School boys’ lacrosse team knew that it had been exactly 692 days since they had last played an official game. After a slow start on their home field, the Rams made up for lost time.
Led by five goals and three assists from sophomore Charles Kurtz, the Rams displayed their offensive firepower in a 17-6 victory over the Blue Knights. CHS built a 9-3 halftime lead and gave up just three goals in both halves.
“It was great to play again,” said senior Brian Bouwman, who tallied a hat trick and two assists in the opener. “We were looking forward to this game.”
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Cheshire Head Coach Mike Devine didn’t get to coach the Rams in his first season, but opened his second year with a victory.
“I’m just happy for the kids. They’ve worked so hard to have a chance to play,” said Devine. “I’m proud of our seniors and the Class of 2020 guys who set the standard for us going forward.”
Since many of the Rams also play football, those players last competed at home against Southington in the 2019 Apple Valley Classic on Thanksgiving. The Blue Knights football team won that game, 21-20, in double overtime.
“It has been a long time since we got to play on our field,” said four-year starting defender Nick DiDomizio, a senior co-captain with Bouwman. “We wanted to win our first game back.”
While Cheshire and Southington lacrosse teams combined for 23 goals on Saturday, the game started as a defensive stalemate. Goalkeepers, Cheshire senior Andrew Vernon and Southington junior Matt Rodrigues, came up with key saves and both defenses forced several turnovers.
Southington finally broke through with 4:52 left in the first quarter, as senior Jack Tedone scored the opening goal on a feed from freshman Dominic Calandra.
Down 1-0, the Rams responded with a 6-0 run that continued into the second quarter. It took just 28 seconds for senior PJ Cass to score the tying goal. Freshman Matt Jeffery followed up with his first goal to put the Rams ahead to stay with 1:25 left in the first quarter.
“After we gave up that first goal, it motivated us to push through the rest of the game,” explained senior Aidan Gaudet.
To complete the early spurt, Kurtz and Bouwman both scored twice to propel Cheshire to a 6-1 advantage.
“We knew once we got going, we could do some great things today,” said Kurtz, who had his freshman season wiped out by the pandemic last year.
Junior Rory Missal scored to end Southington’s drought with 5:32 left in the second quarter, but the Rams came back with goals from juniors Andrew Benjamin, Max Manware, and Raba.
Southington junior Owen Huard put in a goal with 3.8 seconds left, however Cheshire still held a six-goal lead at intermission.
“Cheshire has a good team with a great coach in Mike Devine,” stated Southington Head Coach Ron Chase. “They created challenges for us, but I was happy with the way our guys competed.”
Possession was a key factor for the Rams. Gaudet, a four-year varsity player, won 28 of 30 face-offs to ignite his team’s offensive unit.
“It felt good,” reflected Gaudet. “If we keep the ball and score, it is hard for the other team to get momentum.”
After the break, Cheshire returned to outscore Southington, 6-2, in the third quarter. Senior Jack Lovelace, Kurtz, and Jeffery tallied goals to push the lead to 12-5.
Southington looked to rally with goals from senior Dylan Rodriguez and Tedone, but in a span of 26.5 seconds, the Rams posted three goals to end the third quarter. Kurtz converted twice and Bouwman added a goal during the run.
After winning a face-off, Gaudet fed Kurtz for his fifth goal with 1.8 seconds remaining in the third.
“That (spurt) was a good time,” reflected Kurtz. “We move the ball well on offense.”
Cheshire senior Evan Stern opened the fourth quarter with his first goal, scooping up a loose ball in front of the net. Tedone recorded Southington’s last goal with 2:49 remaining and then 27 seconds later, Raba supplied his second goal to cap the scoring.
Raba (two assists), Stern (assist), Jeffery, Manware, and Benjamin joined Kurtz in recording their first points for CHS. Lovelace and Cass added assists.
In his first start in net, Vernon made eight saves for the Rams. In the previous three years, he backed up 2020 graduate Brendan Grove.
“Andrew has been waiting for this opportunity,” said Devine. “He did a great job today.”
Like Devine, Chase was thankful to see his time get on the field.
“We were excited to play for the first time since 2019,” stated Chase. “I saw a lot of positive things that we can build on.”
On Monday, Cheshire returns to host Daniel Hand at 6 p.m. The Blue Knight look to bounce back on Tuesday, visiting East Catholic at 4:30 p.m.
“We understand that this was the first of 16 games,” said Chase. “We’ll take what we learned today and get ready for a good team from East Catholic.”