CRANSTON – South Kingstown’s boys lacrosse team put their premature-2018 exit and only loss of the season into the refuse bin as they put down a late Portsmouth threat at Cranston Stebbins Stadium on Sunday afternoon to win the RIIL D-II championship, their first ever lacrosse title.
No. 2 SK (13-1 in the league) had 17 saves from junior Curtis Rasmussen and five goals from junior attacker Max Willette (seven points with two assists), including four straight scores in the second half to beat the only team to have bested them yet. Each shot and stop mattered as SK won 12-10, holding off a late assault from No. 1 Portsmouth (13-0), who put together everything they had in a second-half comeback bid.
“Last year we were supposed to go to the championship,” Willette said. “But we came up short. We had some difficulties, but this year, right at the beginning of the season I knew we had a special team, and it just felt amazing to finally get that ‘ship.”
“I’m just happy about the win,” Willette said of his game. “Five goals doesn’t matter, whoever scores them. I don’t care whether it was me or a teammate, I’m just glad we got the win.”
“The first time [we played Portsmouth],” Rebel head coach Tom Cauchon said. “We took some late penalties and kind of lost our cool. This time, Rasmussen was spectacular, and we scored some quick goals to put it away when we had the chance.”
“My assistant coach Mike Boynton really had us ready to go,” Cauchon said. “And we kind of had this game circled earlier in the year. We were just glad to come back and get another shot at them. This is kind of what we’ve been looking at all year for our final game. It’s a great day for SK lacrosse.”
SK unleashed their breezy high-octane attack and built up an 8-3 lead at halftime on the neutral turf field under a beating sun. Senior attacker Mike Boynton had a few attempts to begin the second half but was bashed around in what had been a physical game, and Portsmouth scored first in the frame to make it 8-4.
Willette was back at it, making things 9-4 on an extra-man goal after a leading pass from junior defenseman Jack McCarty (one goal and two assists). Beginning at 2:32, Portsmouth got a couple of goals to make it 9-6 and end the third with positive momentum.
At 8:07 in the third, it was again Willette scoring off a McCarty pass, making it 10-6.
Portsmouth got in a ground-skimmer to make it 10-7. At 4:49 in the fourth, Willette showed some nifty stick maneuvering, slashing around some defenseman to slap another goal in over the top.
Portsmouth made it 11-10 off of a deep shot from the middle of the field. After a forced turnover by junior midfielder Evan Adams (two goals) and a rocketed straight-ahead shot stopped by Rasmussen, Willette made it 12-10 on an assist from Boynton; a team effort that created the two-goal cushion.
Besides the five from Willette, the Rebels had a balanced attack with eight players getting points and six scored at least one goal. Mike Boynton had three assists. Adams and sophomore attacker Connor Horiagon each had two goals. Junior midfielder Justin Brown had one goal and one assist. Junior midfielder Matt Boynton had one goal, and junior Andy Sprague had an assist from the midfield.
Accumulating penalties had been an ongoing issue for SK throughout the season and in the title match against Portsmouth, they tried to limit their out-numbered situations and keep calm heads. In an intense and often violently chaotic sport, physical in-game situations can often and easily lead to chippiness and the kind of bad penalties that really jeopardize a team. SK kept clear for the most part.
“It was a lot tight in the end,” Cauchon said. “I was a little worried. They made us sweat it out. That makes it even a little sweeter – they were clutch; clutch saves, clutch defensive stops, and clutch goals. They got that goal to make it 12-10 with what 30 seconds left, and they’ve done that all year.”
“At the end of the game,” Willette said. “I was a little nervous, but you have to have faith in your teammates if you think you’re going to win the game. The entire time, I knew we had it, once we had that two-goal lead.”
Curtis Rasmussen had 17 saves in net for SK, really holding back a rapid Portsmouth second-half retaliation.
“I’ve been playing with Curt since like sixth grade,” Willette said. “He’s always been in net, and he’s been the most solid tender I’ve ever seen. You should have seen him last game; he played out of his mind. Without him, I don’t think we’d be here right now.”
That South County Sharks youth lacrosse program proved to be a good fundamental starting point for many varsity players in the area, as a large part of the SK team can claim Shark alumni status.
“Eight grade,” Willette said about the long bond for this team. “We went undefeated and won the RI youth lacrosse championship. Our class of 2020 has a core group of kids that are really strong.”
In his third year with the team, assistant coach Mike Boynton was admittedly the man with the gameplan and the one who really knew the roster and nuts and bolts of the game. He’d been on the sidelines for the previous regime and when the team struggled in D-I, and he has helped Cauchon usher in his first season at the helm. Boynton also has two kids on the team, arguably two of the top five players for SK.
“This team came together,” Boynton said. “A lot of these kids have been together for a long time. We had four seniors on the team this year, so we only graduate two starters. They earned to play as a team. Work the ball and be unselfish; it makes a big difference when you have teams that play as a team.”
“They didn’t care who scored as long as they won,” Boynton said. “Everybody bought in – every day of practice, night practices, pasta parties, all those things added to the team aspect. I’m very proud of every one of them.”
SK started their lacrosse program in 2007. Their first winning season was their 8-5 2009 campaign. They were D-II runners-up from 2012-’14 when they went 32-7 combined. They struggled in DI for a few years, before going 13-1 last season than losing in the semifinals as the No. 2 seed.