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Lions believe in an upset

May 16, 2002|BY DAN SPEARS

dans@herald-mail.com

SMITHSBURG - The old phrase, "Anything can happen in the playoffs," got a few more converts Wednesday night in the Class 2A-1A West boys lacrosse final at Smithsburg High School.

Coach Jim Nickle of second-seeded Walkersville admitted he had a less-skilled team than top-seeded Smithsburg, and the Leopards had already beaten his Lions this season on their way to a Monocacy Valley Athletic League title.

But he still bought into the mantra - and so did his team - as the Lions used a gutty second half for a 12-11 upset victory and their first trip to the state semifinals later this week.

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"Smithsburg has the better-skilled team than we do, but we played with a lot of heart," Nickle said. "We just felt like we had a shot."

Walkersville (10-4) took its shots, but Smithsburg (14-3) was kind enough to give the Lions many of them close to the net. Every mistake the Leopards made in the second half resulted in disastrous fashion, as they watched a three-goal lead evaporate in the third quarter.

"Just too many unforced errors, and our shooters couldn't get open," Smithsburg coach Joe Dietrich said. "We generally get real good shots on offense. We just couldn't do it tonight."

Smithsburg trailed 4-1 early in the second quarter, but found its gear and scored seven of the next eight goals to lead 8-5 midway through the third quarter.

Then its mistakes, minor in nature earlier in the game, began to mushroom.

With 4:12 left in the third, a nice wraparound goal from Walkersville's Kyle Patton snapped a 12-minute scoreless streak and ignited a 6-1 run over the next 10 minutes. The Lions scored twice on power plays, once on a horrible turnover and also converted a half-hook, half-prayer from Patton and Jeb Gibson's goal from his knees for an 11-9 game with 6:23 to play.

"We made some mistakes early, too," Nickle said. "And whoever made the mistakes, the other team either scored or the goalie made a huge save. (Gibson) falls down, their guy doesn't make the save. Our guy makes the save the next time down. That's the only difference."

Ah yes, "our guy" in question is Walkersville keeper Kyle Wardrop, who made nine saves in the second half, many from point-blank range against Smithsburg attackers Sean Hunt and Mike Trueblood.

"He made some big saves," Nickle said. "It's kinda strange. I told him that he'd have to protect high, and then he makes two big saves down low. It's a good thing he didn't listen to me."

Smithsburg closed within 11-10, but a slow switch from offense to defense left Walkersville's Pat Szarnicki wide open with 1:39 to play, and he buried the shot. The Leopards scored again with a minute to play, but never got a final chance to tie.

Patton had with five goals and an assist and Gibson added three goals and an assist for Walkersville, which plays the East Regional winner this weekend at a site and time to be determined.

Hunt finished with five goals and Trueblood had four goals and four assists, but for the second straight year, the Leopards couldn't convert a top regional seed into their first trip to the state tournament.

"At this level, anyone can win on any given day," Dietrich said. "But it's a great season, something we can still be proud of."

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