Mount Hebron's boys lacrosse team usually starts to send signals to its county competition this time of the year.
The Vikings' 11-5 victory on Wednesday over visiting Hammond contained a list of messages:
* You need more than one or two guns to beat us. Keith Chance andTommy Lea learned that lesson first hand. During Hammond's 6-2 start, which featured two victories over Glenelg, Chance and Lea accountedfor 53 goals, nearly 65 percent of Hammond's offense. Wednesday, they went 0-for-three periods, before scoring one meaningless goal apiece during the game's final seven minutes. Hammond was utterly lost without them.
* We've got too many targets for ordinary defenses to handle. It only took one half for Hebron to drive this point home. While the Golden Bears took 19 minutes, 57 seconds to score their first goal, six different Vikings staked Hebron to a 6-0 first-half lead. Hammond never got closer than four goals. Seven Hebron players eventually scored.
* If you want to beat the best, try playing the best. While Hammond played a decent schedule through its first eight games,Hebron tuned up for the county by traveling a typically rough road. Last month, a 7-4 loss to 15th-ranked Mount St. Joseph and a 13-4 loss to top-ranked St. Paul's got the Vikings started. Last week, the 11th-ranked Vikings won the C. Milton Wright Tournament by beating previously undefeated, ninth-ranked Wright.
* You can't even count on divine intervention to bail you out against us. With 2:32 left in thethird quarter Wednesday, the game was stopped for 25 minutes after Hebron Athletic Director Mark Cates spotted lightning in the threatening skies. At that point, Hebron led 7-2 and Hammond needed a rest. The Golden Bears should have prayed for rain. After play resumed, Hebron scored two quick goals to put the game away.
* We may look fancyat times, but deep down, we like to play rough. The Vikings had their flamboyant moments against Hammond. Like Jason Vettori's second andfinal goal, which made the score 10-4 midway through the fourth period. With his back to the goal about 10 yards away, Vettori faked right and flipped the ball over his left shoulder. No one saw the ball until it had settled in the Hammond goal. "One of the best shots I've ever seen," said Hebron coach Warren Michael.
Flashiness aside, theVikings displayed their most overlooked trademark -- hardnosed defense. That trait marked last year's state championship team, and it hasdefined most of Michael's squads.
Ignoring the zone defenses manyof its opponents choose to play, Hebron threw its man-to-man at the Golden Bears with overwhelming success. Just ask Chance. He entered the game leading Hammond with 29 goals. Had it not been for a rare, one-on-one gift goal with 3:32 left in the game, Chance would have beenheld scoreless. His nemesis? Defenseman Sammy Kang, who wasn't even starting three weeks ago. Midfielder Matt Stromberg did the same number on Lea.
"Man, I am beat up," said an exhausted Chance, who had the welts on both arms to prove it. "When the ball was at their defensive end, they would not get out of our face. We needed someone to step up, and I was trying so hard. I just couldn't do anything."
Sure, one game does not a county championship make. Yet it seems clear that Hebron (2-0, 7-2), which failed to win a county title for the first time in four years last spring under Michael, is back firmly on the league pedestal that reads "The Team To Beat."
Hammond didn't exactly embarrass itself. Although the Bears hurt themselves with careless turnovers, they beat the Vikings to loose balls and actually outshot them, 29-25. Trouble was, when the Bears weren't taking low-percentage shots, either a Hebron defenseman was deflecting the ball or goalie Chris Parandian was gathering one of his 16 saves.
Parandian set the tone. He saved three hard shots -- two by Lea, one by Chance -- in the opening four minutes, after Vettori had given Hebron a 1-0 lead.
"The momentum swings our way if I come up with saves like that. It's crucial for me and the team, and we beat a good team today,"said Parandian. He transferred from Loyola two years ago, won the starting job at midseason last spring and has improved his skills noticeably since. He set up several goals Wednesday with perfect clearing passes.
"Stromberg and Kang played great games, and the rest of the defense did its job perfectly," added Parandian. "I was nervous about them (Hammond) coming in here today. Chance and Lea are great players."
By the time Lea got the Bears' dynamic duo on the board, theVikings were in command with a 9-4 lead with 6:48 left. Meanwhile, Hebron bombarded Hammond from all angles. Andrew Ballinger led Hebron with three goals. Vettori and Greg Toney, a second-team midfielder, scored two each. Andrew Ward, Carl Bochau, Blair Hill and Scott Savageadded goals.
With four games remaining on their regular-season schedule, Hebron has two obstacles left in Centennial and Glenelg. Tomorrow, the Vikings travel to Centennial, which figures to have the best shot at unseating them.
Still, it will take an all-star effort to upset the Vikings. They're battled-tested. Parandian and the defense are playing top-notch ball. And the offense features three players with at least 20 points -- Vettori, Ballinger and Tom Huppman -- and six midfielders with between five and 13 points. Too many targets to track. Too much balance.
"Centennial can beat us. They've got somesize, a good defense and some scorers. I wouldn't be surprised if it's a one-goal game," said Michael.
"We're not real good at anything, but we're not weak at anything either," he said. "Teams can't be happy with shutting one of our guys down. And I like to think that, since we've played in some tougher games, we won't crack under pressure.
Just one more message for Hebron opponents to contemplate.