PONTE VEDRA BEACH – Twelve saves by goaltender Korbin Hamilton were not enough to overcome a slow start as Fleming Island fell to Nease 10-8 in an FHSAA District 6 boys lacrosse semifinal game at Ponte Vedra High School Tuesday night.
Hamilton’s superior play enabled the Golden Eagles to stay within range of the Panthers, who outshot Fleming Island 34-23. Like a Jedi with a light saber, Hamilton waved his stick high, low and side-to-side to repel shot after shot. His most difficult save came late in the third quarter on a bounce shot from close range from Nease’s Hunter Kobin. Hamilton nearly did the splits as he dropped to get the head of his stick to the ground to thwart the fast break. Nease head coach Max Gurowski was impressed.
“That number 15 [Hamilton] was incredible,” said Gurowski after the game. “He stopped a lot of good shots.”
The Panthers dominated possession time thanks to the faceoff work of senior Ashton Wood and uncharacteristic turnovers by Fleming Island. Wood, committed to play for Mercer next year, won 17 of 19 ball drops against the Golden Eagles’ tandem of Max Michaels and Declan Bertolini. The senior gave Nease the momentum by racing downfield with the opening faceoff and delivering a perfect pass to Zach Ott for a putaway and a 1-0 lead just seven seconds into the game. After that, the Golden Eagles began to concede faceoffs in order to prevent the fast breaks that often ensue when Wood is at the midfield circle.
“In high school lacrosse, he is as good as you’ve got,” Fleming Island coach John Hawley said of Wood. “Other teams, even Ponte Vedra, concede faceoffs to him.”
Building on the momentum of Ott’s game-opening goal, Nease scored half of their total goals in the first quarter to take a 5-1 lead. Kobin, who finished with a hat trick, scored two of those goals. But Fleming Island fought back, and trailed only 6-3 at halftime after junior Daniel Horrell grabbed a rebound and used an underhand scoop to get the ball into the net before Panthers goalie Joey Pappaceno could react.
The teams traded goals in a tense second half, with Fleming Island narrowing the deficit to two goals on four occasions. Kobin converted a man-up opportunity for the Panthers— one of three Nease goals scored with a one-man advantage— to give Nease a 10-7 lead with 4:02 remaining. A steal by Fleming Island middie Cooper Cavins led to an unassisted goal by senior Cole Stark with 2:46 left, but with Wood winning the ensuing faceoff and a penalty landing Golden Eagles’ defender Addison deAbreu-Reese on the sideline for thirty seconds, Nease was able to run the final two minutes off of the clock.
The Panthers clamped down on Patrick Schreiber and Eric Dobson, Fleming Island’s two leading scorers. The Panthers devoted a man to tightly guarding Dobson at all times in an effort to deny him the ball. The strategy was especially effective in the first half, when a wraparound goal by Schreiber was the only point either of the attack men could tally. But Hawley countered by moving Dobson from attack to midfielder so that he could come in off of the sideline to receive passes before he was picked up by a defender. The sophomore scored both of his goals in the second half and assisted on a fourth quarter goal by Schreiber.
Fleming Island did get offensive contributions from players other than their two stars. Junior Matthew Welsh found the net twice to complement the goals by Horrell and Stark.
“One of the positives from the game was that we got scoring from other players,” said Hawley. “I was very pleased with the young guys stepping up.”
The Golden Eagles, who finish the season with a 10-3 record, will lose nine seniors off of the playoff roster, including the entire starting defense and Schreiber, who has led the Golden Eagles in scoring the last three years and finishes his high school career with 128 goals. But Dobson, who has 67 goals in just two seasons, and Hamilton will return to lead next year’s campaign.
“I am incredibly proud of these players,” Hawley said of his team. “To get to the playoffs in this district is a tremendous accomplishment. Our goal was to win two district games, and we did that.”
Nease improves to 13-6 and will take on Ponte Vedra, a 16-1 winner over Bartram Trail in the first game Tuesday night, in the district 6 final on Thursday, April 19.