Eastern LAX advances to state title game for first time

By: Jeff Woods

The Eastern girls lacrosse program has already made history this season and can make a little more Thursday night.

Eastern is just win one away from its first state lacrosse championship, defeating Sacred Heart 8-5 in the semifinals. Before this year, the Eagles had never even made it past the state quarterfinals.

“I almost started crying to be honest,” Eastern’s Julia Smith who scored two and recorded one assist said. “I can’t even put into words how I’m feeling. It’s crazy that all four years I’ve been on the varsity team all four years, finally I’m going to be in a state championship game and hopefully win state.”

The Eagles scored early and often in the first half, reeling off four unanswered goals to start the game. Mary Katherine Hardy put Sacred Heart on the board with 3:59 to play in the first half, but Eastern responded with two more goals in the final 90 seconds to take a 6-1 edge at the half.

“I think they kept their composure mentally and that’s definitely a battle that we have with this team,” Eastern head coach Rylee Huffman said. “I think we have a little bit better talent, but we just get outplayed mentally in the games against Sacred Heart.”

Foster tacked on another goal for Eastern early in the second half to go up 7-1 with 22:16 to go. Moments later, Sacred Heart answered right back with a goal that jumpstarted its second half rally.

“Honestly, nothing went wrong the first half,” Sacred Heart head coach Andrea Merchak said “We just played a little bit too safe. They ended up with possession the majority of the first half and we were playing low-pressure defense. Once we switched to our high-pressure defense in the second half, that’s when we started making up ground.”

The Valkyries scored four unanswered goals over a 16-minute span to cut the lead to 7-5. Maddie Landoch and Abby Thompson both scored twice and Sydney Wood assisted on all four goals. Their comeback bid ended when Julie Lindsey iced the game with her third goal of the night with less than a minute to play.

“It was just a little bit too little, too late,” said Merchak. “I think that these were very evenly matched teams all the way across the board. My girls rallied in the second half, but they weren’t quite there in the first half. I’m so proud. They played to the last second. They were chasing that ball to the last second of the game when we were down by two. I could not be prouder of these girls.”

For the Eagles, the focus shifts to Thursday’s championship game at 7:00 p.m. Eastern has never been in this position, but Huffman believes her squad is up for the task.

“I think we’re ready,” Huffman said. “I think it’s going to be a little more challenging because we’re going to be pretty exhausted after this battle tonight. But my girls are so confident and I think that it would be humongous for us to actually win it all. I think it’s a big possibility.”

“We still have one more to go,” said Foster. “We have to clear this one out immediately. We can be excited tonight, but we have to be focused just like we were today and come out hard.”