Monday may have been the final day of spring break for most students in Carroll County, but not for players on the Winters Mill lacrosse team.
With a game against rival Westminster just a day away, coach Sal Picataggi kept his players in the classroom for 90 minutes, watching film and game-planning, and then took them outside for a two-and-a-half hour hour practice.
On Tuesday, all the hard work paid off. The host Falcons held the No. 9 Owls scoreless for the final 19 minutes, 36 seconds, taking the lead for good on midfielder Jacques Mercer's goal with 1:08 to play in a 6-5 win.
Picataggi said the extra preparation was critical against a high-powered foe that entered the night having won eight straight by an average of more than eight goals.
"Every time we saw them, they were so impressive in transition. We knew we had to play the game in half field — six on six," Picataggi said. "We felt we had a much better chance going low-scoring with them."
Winters Mill (7-2 overall, 2-0 county) did just that, at times slowing the ball to a crawl on offense, while defensively stifling the Owls (8-2, 2-1) with a packed-in zone sprinkled with occasional man-to-man. Goalie Joey McCulloh (eight saves) also came up big for the Falcons, several times stopping shots at point-blank range.
Junior Spenser Love led the victors with three goals, and also played a critical role on the game-winner.
Battling for the ball deep in Westminster's end, Love managed to push it on the ground in front of the crease, where Mercer picked it up, faked once and scored.
"I was just in the right place at the right time," Mercer said.
Westminster coach Steve DeFeo said the deciding play highlighted his team's problems winning ground balls.
"I think they probably won the ground ball battle," DeFeo said. "That's where it kind of came down to. That last shot was off a ground ball, as a matter of fact. …Other than that, it was pretty much even all throughout the game."
Senior Nick Conroy scored three goals to lead Westminster, which hadn't lost since dropping a 6-5 decision to Linganore in the season opener.
"This is huge for us … I can't even describe it," Love said. "This is right with the playoffs."
Winters Mill looked sharp early. Down 1-0, the Falcons took control of the game with three straight goals — by midfielders Jason Kreimer, Evan Horn and Love — over a span of 5:52.
Trailing, 4-2, however, Westminster quickly made a game of it when senior Nick Conroy scored two goals in 13 seconds. The second, which came moments after Winters Mill won the faceoff, came off a pass from attackman Tyler Davis on a shot 10 yards out on the left side.
Winters Mill 6, Westminster 5
Goals: W- Conroy 3, Treuchet, Thompson; WM- Love 3, Kreimer, Horn, Mercer. Assists: W-Russell, Davis; WM-Hutson 2, Cullison, Mercer. Saves: W-Natale 5. WM-McCulloh 8. Half: Tied, 4-4.