BRANDYWINE – Throughout the first half, Gwynn Park High School Head Coach Gary Smith could be seen with his arms crossed while shouting the word “pass” to his boys’ lacrosse team.
Despite holding the majority of possession and taking over 25 shots of their contest against Largo on April 5, the Yellow Jackets only had a two-goal advantage heading into halftime. Smith gathered the team around the northern end zone to remind them of their fundamentals.
“He was telling us to slow it down,” sophomore attacker Desmond Jordan said. “Attack their midfield and work the ball around. He told us to make sure we look for those cuts inside and moving the ball around while playing as a team. He said to keep our heads in the game and have a better second half.”
The talk worked wonders for Gwynn Park as last year’s 1A/2A/3A champions methodically tired out their opponents in the second half with ball-movement and strategic passing for easier shot opportunities.
Combined with a hat trick by Jordan and standout saves by Preston Rorick, Gwynn Park bounced back to finish off Largo for an 8-1 home win.
While the win keeps the Yellow Jackets undefeated, they had to battle a physically imposing Largo team that looked to use its speed and size advantage to create turnovers.
Jordan slapped in a quick shot from the top of the crease to give Gwynn Park an early one-goal lead. They would continue the pressure offensively with possession and 3-0 faceoff advantage.
Largo did its part to keep Gwynn Park’s attack off-balance with its physical defense that caused multiple turnovers. The Lions (3-2) intercepted many passes as well, forcing the home team to take more long-range efforts that went wide of the net instead of getting in front of goal. Out of their 25 first-half shots, only four were on target.
Helping the cause for Largo was the unbelievable goalkeeping performance by sophomore Josue Facey. Originally joining the team to be an attacker, the goalie used everything possible, including his own body, to make saves to keep the Lions in the game.
With five minutes remaining during the break, Facey had two rapid consecutive saves off his leg and with his stick, frustrating Gwynn Park further. The goalie finished the game with 15 saves, minimizing the damage for the visitors.
“Today was a painful game and was already coming with pain in the stomach (from the last game),” Facey said. “The ball hit me in the ribs, abdomen and the shoulders; I played through a lot of pain, but overall, it was a good game.”
“I told them to try low shots,” Smith said of Gwynn Park’s strategy change at halftime. “Their goalie was saving our shots, but I told them to keep shooting on him…. Shoot low and make him work.”
Following the halftime break, Largo thought the momentum was set to shift when attacker Kelvin Addison scored a close-range goal to narrow their deficit.
However, officials called the play back due to his foot inside the crease, giving Gwynn Park a sigh of relief. Rorick kept the Yellow Jackets’ lead intact with five saves in his near-shutout performance.
Largo finally broke through with its first goal after midfielder Cameron Draughn spun away from a defender and buried his shot over Rorick to the top-right corner of the net. Despite conceding, Gwynn Park stuck to the game plan and began holding the ball and connecting more short-range passing plays to wear out the Largo defense.
The strategy was working as Jordan scored his second goal and attacker Christian Coleman converted his first goal off a turn-and-shoot pass play.
As the fourth quarter began, Gwynn Park continued its ball-heavy dominance and scored four goals in a six-minute session. Sophomore Steven Smith capped off a five-pass combination to start the streak and Jordan followed by completing his hat trick.
Junior midfielder Edward Porterfield connected with quick back-to-back goals, one of which was a laser shot from 20 yards away that flashed by Facey for the score.
“After we got the speech from the coach, we started to slow the game down and to pass the ball around more,” Porterfield said. “We were more accurate with our passes and not trying to rush in and moving it around more.”
Largo ran out of energy in the final minutes to gain possession and generated their second goal in the contest.
“We can always do better on the offense and hold the ball a bit better, pass the ball and make better shots,” Facey said. “But overall, we have a good team, and we have a bright future.”
Gwynn Park (5-0) is ambitious, Smith said, as they look to return to the county championships and be a more competitive team against the 4A opponents.
“Once we go back to counties, we will be able to get them this time,” Jordan said. “Last time, I feel the reason we didn’t perform well as we could have is because we gave up in the second half. This year, we will make sure we keep our heads in the game and playing as hard as we can all the time and staying in the game, we can get the county championship this year.”