Kearsarge, Hopkinton putting a little extra in the tank heading into D-III lacrosse final

  • Kearsarge celebrates their 8-7 overtime win over Monadnock following their Division III boys' lacrosse semifinal at Laconia High School in Laconia on Wednesday, June 7, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

  • Hopkinton's Henry Yianakopolos (7) and Liam Flanagan (15) celebrate Yianakopolos's goal in the first quarter during a Division III boys' lacrosse semifinal at Laconia High School in Laconia on Wednesday, June 7, 2017. Hopkinton defeated ConVal, 19-1. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

Monitor staff
Published: 6/9/2017 11:43:53 PM

The Hopkinton boys’ lacrosse team cleared the regular season with a perfect record, but there was one that almost got away.

It was May 12 when Hopkinton’s clean record was put into jeopardy during a visit to Kearsarge. The Cougars held a 7-4 lead going into the fourth quarter, but the Hawks stormed back to force overtime and won the game, 8-7.

Hopkinton never played a closer game than that, the only one decided by fewer than seven goals. Two days prior, Kearsarge played its only other matchup decided by one goal, an 8-7 win over ConVal.

So the Hawks and Cougars marched to the playoffs as the two greatest powers of Division III.

Now, the division will see the title match many expected from the early weeks of the season when No. 1 Hopkinton (16-0) meets No. 2 Kearsarge (15-2) for the state championship at Exeter’s Bill Ball Stadium on Saturday at 2:30 p.m.

Hopkinton dispatched Brady in the quarterfinals and then bashed ConVal, 19-1, in the semifinals on Wednesday to earn its title shot, while Kearsarge knocked out Trinity, 15-2, in the quarters and squeezed an 8-7 overtime win against Monadnock in the semifinals.

“Since the early part of the season, there’s been a lot of people that circled Hopkinton and circled us and thought we might meet in a final,” Kearsarge Coach Zach Matthews said.

Hopkinton is 3-0 against Kearsarge going back to their quarterfinal meeting last spring where the Cougars suffered a 12-7 loss. Hopkinton moved on to the semifinals, but fell to eventual Division III champion Laconia.

This spring, Laconia took an early exit from the tournament, falling to Monadnock, 7-6, in the quarterfinals. The path was clear for a new champion, but neither the Cougars nor Hawks are ready to claim their right to the throne prematurely.

“All season long I think we’ve been very process-driven,” Matthews said. “We’ve tried not to talk about the big things. Teams get in trouble when you start putting that word ‘championship’ out there and you start feeling like you’re too big for your britches. We’ve tried to stay grounded and focused on the process and getting better every day in practice. ... I know it’s cliche for coaches to say ‘one game at a time,’ but we’re just trying to get better and all we’ve afforded ourselves is an opportunity at one game.”

The Hawks, coming in with their perfect record, hope they have a little more in the tank.

“Obviously, this is the time of year you want to peak and I think that’s just what’s happening for us,” Hopkinton Coach Deacon Blue said. “Kearsarge is a tough team. They’ve got a lot of good players, a lot of seniors, and they’re very hungry for it. They’ve had a lot of close games this year, too, so I think they’re ready for a tight matchup. We’re going to bring it the same way we did (Wednesday), even harder.”

Hopkinton took control from the beginning of its semifinal match with ConVal and didn’t let up. The Hawks scored six goals through the first five minutes and led 12-0 at halftime. The surge was powered by senior middie Henry Yianakopolos, who scored four goals in 90 seconds in the first quarter on his way to six for the day. Liam Flanagan, a senior attackman, matched Yianakopolos with six goals of his own.

The Hawks came out of that 19-1 win with 19 reasons to be pretty confident heading into the title game. But Hopkinton senior goaltender Derek Amoth, who made 14 saves against ConVal, recognizes Kearsarge as equally determined.

“They’re definitely our toughest competition this entire year,” Amoth said. “We know going in they’re going to be absolutely hyped coming off an OT win. They’re going to be ready to go and give it their all.”

The Cougars piled onto Justin Norris after he netted the game-winning goal in overtime in the semifinals. It had the feeling of a title game, but in reality, there’s still one left.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” Norris said. “I’ve never been in this position (playing for a championship). I’ve been playing with most of these guys since fifth grade and we started talking about this back then. To be here with these guys is amazing.”

The experience was a good one for Kearsarge as a prelude to the title game.

The result could have been different had the Cougars not survived the two-minute, locked-in penalty they took late in the fourth quarter. They killed it successfully without allowing a goal in that crucial stretch, which eventually keyed the victory.

“I think that at the end of games, when they’re tight games, the emotions, the pressure is different and so I think the more experience you can have playing in tight games – obviously it’s nice to learn a lesson when you win the game,” Matthews said. “That could have been a two-goal difference in the game and our defense did an awesome job killing that penalty.”

There will be no shortage of energy on either sideline Saturday. It’s title time – no other motivation is needed.

“We’re so ready for this,” Amoth said. “We’ve been dying to get to the championship, and this is our year to get it.”

(Nick Stoico can be reached at 369-3339, or on Twitter @NickStoico.)

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