By Mike Abelson (@ABELS0N)
READING – All the pieces were in place for a classic finish between Reading and Billerica in the Division 1 North semifinals. It was a one-goal game after a quarter, both goalies were playing great, and the offenses were finishing on both ends.
However, it was a near-flawless fourth from the Rockets that pushed Reading to a 15-9 win over the Indians and into the first D1 North final in program history.
Five players scored in the fourth. Dan Cozzi had two of his four goals in the fourth quarter to help put Billerica away.
“We find our matchups,” Reading coach Charlie Hardy said. “If you shut Danny off we have Kevin [Tobin]. If they get cut off we have Jack [Geiger]. That’s how we’ve done this.”
Tobin and Geiger filled the stat sheet for the Rockets. Reading hitched its offense to Geiger early. Geiger put in four of his five goals in the first half to help Reading open up an 8-3 lead at the half. Tobin had two goals and an assist in the opening 24 minutes, and he’d add four points in the second half.
The Rockets capitalized on the possessions created by a +8 faceoff advantage and a +10 advantage in ground . The deep, and fast, Rocket offense moved the ball well on the offensive end, and it paid off.
“I just had the matchups all day,” Geiger said. “My teammates were giving me picks, opening up space for me, so I just took it to the hole. Today, we were working it around real well. It was getting us open looks.”
Billerica made a run in the third quarter, outscoring Reading 5-2, but they couldn’t tie it up. Drew Laundry had a hat trick for the Indians.
“There was no doubt in my mind we were going to come back, and then they put one in and we started having trouble on faceoffs and the penalties,” Billerica coach Craig Flynn said. “If you don’t have the ball on offense you can’t score, and those guys are too good to give them opportunities on offense.”
It wasn’t that the Indians didn’t have offensive chances; it was that Reading goalie CJ Hart showed why he’s one of the best in the state. Billerica fired off 32 shots, and Hart turned aside eight of them including a big one in the fourth that was pushed by Reading in transition and turned into a goal.
“CJ’s been a stone wall all year,” Geiger said. “When we need to rely on someone it’s always CJ.”
END OF AN ERA
The core of this Billerica team has been together for a long time. Led by the senior trio of Laundry, Jeff
Trainor, and Tyler Canto, the Indians won three MVC titles, six state tournament games, and made the North final last year.
“They’re a great group of kids,” Flynn said. “They have a bright future ahead of them on and off the field. I’m proud to be their coach for the last four years. We’re going to miss them.”
Their time in green developed all three stars into Division 1 players. Laundry will go Towson in the fall while Trainor will attend UMass and Canto will go to UMass-Lowell.
“Best four years of lacrosse and met a lot of good people,” a tearful Canto said after the game. “I had a good time here. I wish I was still playing. It is what it is at this point and just have to move on. Goalie coach Tom Lavery really helped me out the most goalie wise. Really grateful for that. I wish I could keep playing here, but I got to move on.”
THE MOUNTAIN AHEAD
Up next for Reading is the reigning state champion, Lincoln-Sudbury. The Warriors rolled past Acton-
Boxboro in their semifinal to set up a rematch of last season’s D1 North semi that LS won 20-7.
L-S will press the Rockets defensively, but if Reading can move the ball it can end well for them. In their lone loss, to Concord-Carlisle, the Rockets did a poor job of possessing the ball, and Hardy said cleaning that up leads to success.
“In that Concord-Carlisle game we had 29 possessions and nine times the guy that took it over shot it or threw it away,” Hardy said. “We can’t win like that. We’re looking for 10-12 passes a possession. We can run and gun when we got it, but that’s what happens.”
Defensively, the Rockets will be up against it with the Warriors’ endless attack coming at them for 48 minutes. Anything short of flawless might not be enough.
“I think defensively we have to play a perfect game,” Geiger said. “We’ll score. Offensively we’ll get our goals, but defensively we can matchup with them. That’s what we got to do.”
Reading: Jack Geiger (5), Kevin Tobin (4), Dan Cozzi (4), Michael Tobin, Colin Doherty
Billerica: Drew Laundry (3), Dan Canniff (2), Gus Gobiel, Justin Beck, Jeff Trainor
Reading: Kevin Tobin (3), Doherty (2), Cozzi
Billerica: Gobiel (2), Trainor (2), Canniff
Reading: CJ Hart (8)
Billerica: Tyler Canto (10)