POWELL – The Olentangy Liberty boys lacrosse team overcame an early 3-0 hole to knock off Olentangy to claim at least a share of the OCC-Buckeye championship with a 10-7 victory Wednesday night.
“Last year we were down 8-0, so we knew 3-0 was no problem,” Liberty coach Jason Godwin said. “I thought we played fantastic (the rest of the first half). The first eight minutes were theirs, but that last 16 was ours. I thought that showed our grit and our want-to – which was nice.”
Alex Theuerkauf scored back-to-back goals in a three-goal spurt midway through the third quarter to give the Patriots their first lead and they never trailed again.
“He needed to come through like that,” Godwin said. “I think that helps him – helps his confidence. That was huge – getting some goals with some big rips.”
Mason Spaulding scored three goals, including the first of the deciding third-period rally, and Jacob Kessler added three assists and a goal of his own to lead Liberty.
These rivals have mirrored each other this season, facing stiff competition early before rallying down the stretch.
Liberty, which has faced injury problems throughout the year, picked up its 10th consective win after starting the season 1-4.
The Patriots (11-4, 6-0) can clinch the league title outright with a win against New Albany May 10.
“It’s quite an accomplishment,” Godwin said. “We’ve been constantly changing pieces – that says a lot about our kids.”
Olentangy faced a youth movement with the loss of 17 seniors last year. It seemed destined for a rebuilding year after losing several of its younger players with the opening of Berlin and a third coach in as many seasons.
Olentangy rallied to win seven straight and nine of its previous 10 after a 1-4 start, though.
“I knew early on that we were going to play good competition and we had a lot of young guys playing,” Olentangy coach Dan Warren said. “I knew we were going to take our lumps early, but hopefully we would grow and develop and I think we did that as we went along.”
Khairi Sears scored twice in the first three minutes and change and Austin English added another to give Olentangy a 3-0 lead with 7:21 left in the first quarter.
“I think early, we were just playing off the high energy of a rivalry game,” Warren said. “The shot placement helped us out a lot and we were able to keep the ball away from the them – winning the face-offs and hustling on (groundballs).”
Liberty chipped away to close the opening frame before Peter Spallino scored off a Kessler feed with 9:13 left in the half to knot the score 3-3. The teams were tied 4-4 at the half.
“They (Olentangy) are so gritty,” Godwin said. “Khairi did great moving the ball and scoring goals. But when three are in the front like that … that’s on us. They were able to get a couple in on us later, but great defense and great coaches made adjustments. So, we were able to overcome that.”
Spallino finished with two goals and a helper and Adam Blind stopped 10 shots in goal, including eight in the second half and five in the fourth quarter to help the Patriots preserve the win.
Spears led Olentangy (10-6, 6-1) with three goals and English added a goal and an assist and Sam McInturf had 10 saves, including five in the opening period.
“Spears is a really good athlete and a really good box player,” Warren said. “He’s able to keep the ball in a lot of traffic and still have control to get out really incredible shots. He’s a really talented player.”
Olentangy, which defeated New Albany 11-8 Apr. 16, still has a shot at a share of the league title if the Eagles beat Liberty.
Liberty is back at it today at 7 p.m. in non-league play, hosting Cincinnati St. Xavier. Olentangy is off until May 10 when it plays in the Midwest Tournamant at Fortress Obetz. The time and opponent are to be announced.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichnotwealthy or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.