SALEM — E.C. Glass senior Landon Collins stood strong in front of the goal for four minutes Saturday. Riverside didn’t waste any time unleashing shots after earning the game’s first possession, forcing him to make big stops in the Hilltoppers’ third straight trip to the Class 4 state championship game.
But Collins and the Glass boys lacrosse defense could only bend for so long.
With 7:55 left in the first quarter, Mitchell Pehlke took a pass from Cory McDonald on the run and whipped a shot into the back of the net, opening the floodgates for the Rams, who used transition opportunities and a stout defense to pick up a 12-4 victory and stifle Glass’ hopes to bring a trophy back to Lynchburg for the second consecutive season.
“Best word to describe it is frustrating,” Glass senior attack Wyatt Hamilton said. “We didn’t play our game. We turned the ball over about seven times in a row there in the middle stretch. We let them build up a lead, and we couldn’t come back. It was a perfect storm of terrible, terrible things that went wrong for us. It’s so frustrating.”
Like the rain that saturated the field at Salem High, the Rams (18-2) didn’t let up on the offensive end in the first half.
Forty-two seconds after recording his first goal, Pehlke found the back of the net again, capitalizing that time on a pass from fellow senior attack Daniel Maltz. The Rams built a 5-0 lead before Glass could finally get on the board and led by five or more goals the rest of the way.
“For us, it’s once one falls, they’re all gonna fall,” Riverside senior attack Taylor Musa said. “It’s all about that first possession getting as many shots as we can until one falls.”
Musa, Pehlke and Maltz proved an unstoppable combination near the goal for Riverside, and accounted for all but one of the Rams’ eight first-half goals. The trio combined for nine goals and five assists Saturday, in their second meeting with Glass in a state championship.
Two years ago, the Rams downed the Hilltoppers in Salem to capture their first boys lacrosse state crown, so the programs both entered Saturday’s contest looking for a second ring, and Glass, of course, wanted revenge. But for every opening the ’Toppers found on their quest for payback, Riverside had the answer.
About four minutes into the second half, Glass recovered perfectly from a mistake, turning a penalty and Riverside’s first man-up chance of the game into an offensive opportunity of its own. The Hilltoppers’ defense forced a turnover and pushed the ball to the other side of the field in what seemed like the first time the momentum really swung in Glass’ favor. Down 9-3 with 18 minutes of game time left, the door opened for the ’Toppers, but a quick turnover on a bad pass stifled the energy.
“I knew in the back of my mind that if we played like we could, then we could come out with the win,” said Glass senior faceoff man Matthew Gallagher, who had two assists. “But we just didn’t do that today.”
Gallagher’s assists came in the second and third quarters. He connected first with Robert Carrington with 3:41 left in the first half, then found Andrew Kayes (two goals) 2 1/2 minutes into the third quarter to bring the Hilltoppers within six goals of Riverside.
Max Gladieux capped the scoring for Glass with an unassisted goal with 10:49 left in the game. Hamilton assisted Kayes’ first goal that came with 19.5 seconds left in the first quarter.
“We had a couple opportunities on crease, but we just couldn’t finish them,” Gallagher said.
Riverside outshot Glass 34-25, and the Hilltoppers went 0 for 5 on man-up opportunities.
Defensively, the Rams’ long-stick defenders pressured Glass players as soon as they got the ball, making it difficult for Glass to move the ball effectively. Riverside goalkeeper Josh Ruwe had six saves.
“We just didn’t adapt well to what they were doing, and that’s really what it comes down to,” Glass coach Eddie Ranuska said. “It’s not about being hungry, it’s not about anything like that, it’s just about executing and adapting in the game when you need to. and we really didn’t adapt like we needed to.”
The Hilltoppers’ defense, meanwhile, forced 15 turnovers, and Collins (five saves) and Noah Neczyporuk combined for six saves.
Glass finished the season at 17-3.
“I feel like our season was a success even though it didn’t end the way we wanted it to,” Gallagher said. “ … I feel like the [younger] kids know what it takes to go to a championship now. … We put E.C. Glass on the map the last four or five years. Everybody knows who E.C. glass is now.”
Emily Brown covers the Hillcats, ODAC and high school sports for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5529.