Despite their five earlier title wins, Red Hook’s Raiders really weren’t supposed to win the Section lacrosse championship this year.
They hadn’t had their typical barn-burning season. They lost games they could have won, and they got ripped in games early in the season against Arlington and Cornwall. By the time the Section IX Class C final rolled around May 28, Red Hook was 8-9, coming off a breezy 14-2 win against Millbrook in the sectional semifinals, and was set to face undefeated Rondout Valley.
Rondout didn’t stumble into the section championship. They buried teams that should have aced the Ganders, including Cornwall, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Monroe-Woodbury; they edged Red Hook on April 16, 5-4.
But Red Hook coach Rich Saulino’s Raider squad wasn’t about to let the Class C heir apparents have the title without a good fight.
Red Hook, which Saulino earlier in the year called a “workman-like team,” scrapped with the Ganders and built an early four-goal lead. Rondout climbed back into competition, but Red held on with a fourth quarter defensive stand against some last-second, go-for-broke Ganders offense.
The Raiders won, 7-5, on three goals from star attack player Tong Guerra, and set up a post-season matchup with Section 1’s Bronxville on June 1 at Walter Panas High School in Cortlandt Manor.
Bronxville is not a normal opponent for the Raiders. In the past two years, the Broncos, a lacrosse powerhouse from a lacrosse-mad part of New York, have been ousted in the New York State lacrosse semifinals. In 2013, they were 21-1. They are equipped with college-bound players, including defenseman Tim Rotanz, headed for Maryland.
On the flip side, regional play has never been Red Hook’s strong suit, going 0-5 in regional games before meeting Bronxville. And, much like Red wasn’t going to let Rondout Valley slide, Bronxville sure wasn’t going to let Red Hook slide.
Red Hook came out strong — at least in the first three minutes. They won the first faceoff, Red Hook goalie Austin Loeffel had four saves in that time and the Raiders looked keen on one of their only cogent offensive stands in the game. But Loeffel, who came up big for the Raiders on many occasions in 2013, started to lose control as the first quarter wore on and the Bronxville offense eased past Red Hook’s defenders for one-on-one goal opportunities. Once the Broncos scored their first goal on a lay-up at 8:29, Bronxville went on an offensive tear like Red Hook had not seen in the season, going up 10-0 by the end of the quarter.
The Raiders successfully held the ball in second quarter for a minute between 8:00 and 7:00, and managed to get off six shots on goal before getting scored on at 6:51. Scoring on almost every opportunity and sapping every ounce of confidence from the Raiders, Bronxville sent Red Hook into halftime trailing 17-0.
The Broncos’ offensive flow mellowed considerably in the second half, when they sent out the second team — which still managed to outscore the Raiders, 5-1.
But Red Hook’s only goal was something special.
In the fourth quarter, Loeffel decided not to pass the ball out to a defender for a clear, and instead drove straight up the middle of the field with the ball, slowing shortly after passing the midfield mark and picking up speed as he made toward the goal. At the last second, he dished the ball five feet ahead to Guerra, who put it in the back of the net at 7:53 and raise some serious cheers from the crowd. Guerra and company celebrated on the field as if the shot were a game winner, and the good vibes lasted two minutes, until the next Bronxville goal at 5:42.
Red Hook left the game with a 22-1 loss and a 9-10 record, their first losing record since 2008. Bronxville’s Matt Behrens led all scorers with 4 goals. Despite the one-sided scoring in the game, Loeffel had 14 saves.
“Austin played out-of-his-mind phenomenal today,” said Saulino of his goalie. “Just steadying the play. His work was unbelievable — he’s been there since day one and he’s certainly going to be sorely missed next year. Unbelievable.”
“I’m shocked,” Saulino added. “I’m shocked about how this team rose to the occasional from the beginning of the season until right now, as far as who was going to step up and play. Even today they played with a lot of heart — and that’s what defines this team. Their heart.”