Oakdale boys' huge fourth quarter propels them past Knights, toward playoffs

MIDDLETOWN — It felt like the game was about to spiral away from Oakdale boys lacrosse at the end of the third quarter.

Middletown’s Rory Kopelson had raced down the field and beat the buzzer to push the Knights’ lead back to three goals, the type of quick strike that usually breaks a team down for good. That seemed especially true of the Bears on Thursday, as every rally was undone by a series of mistakes.

Instead, Oakdale came out and played one of its best quarters of lacrosse all season.

The Bears rattled off six unanswered goals in just under six minutes, spurring a 14-11 road win that renewed their momentum entering the playoffs.

“It was more us asking those boys to give us everything they have,” Oakdale coach Dale Kowatch said. “I’ve adopted a saying that, ‘It doesn’t suck, it’s just hard.’ And hard things are good for us to do.”

That’s been the mental battle the Bears (8-4) have fought all season in games where they find themselves trailing.

They lost a difficult one-goal battle to Carroll County power Manchester Valley on Wednesday, and it seemed some of the hard feelings from that game were spilling over into the start of Thursday’s match.

“It’s easy to come out to a tough game like this against an opponent that we know and just kind of go through the motions and think we’re gonna win,” Kowatch said.

That’s why the way his team closed out Middletown heartened him.

Senior attack Shaun Wright (four goals, three assists) facilitated the offense like usual, and he worked with midfielder Vince Giganti on a pick-and-roll to start the comeback 48 seconds into the fourth. That gave Giganti a hat trick, emblematic of the greater supporting role the sophomore has taken on throughout the campaign.

Naturally, his rapport with Wright has only grown with each game.

“You get to know his looks,” Giganti said. “Off that slip, that was all him. He came to call the pick, I slipped off and scored … because in the beginning of the year, he told me what to do.”

The next two strikes came from attack Asher Payne. He first capitalized off a bad pass turnover before playing catch with Wright, eventually tiring a Knights defense down two men so he could get the open look he wanted.

That evened the game and also marked an important hat trick for the senior. Payne has admittedly struggled with having a strong mindset in games this season, and he said he entered Thursday dour and lacking confidence after a tough game the previous night.

But Kowatch challenged Payne to shake off those issues, and while the senior was initially hesitant against Middletown’s defenders, that goal to close the gap to one gave him a perspective he hopes will carry into the postseason.

“Just being there in that moment in the right position and everything, it made me realize that if I’m consistently on it, it’s bound to get me a few goals,” Payne said.

His burst of energy soon carried to his teammates, who continued the onslaught to take the lead.

Attack Drew Phipps found midfielder Christian Bass 65 seconds after Payne evened the score, and Bass soon whipped home the go-ahead strike. Oakdale then stretched its lead to three, all while its command of possession meant the Knights (7-5) had little offensive pressure of their own.

Trey Wilkes managed to temporarily stem the Bears’ scoring with his third goal of the night, but that was all Middletown mustered in the final period.

“Just young. We’re young, and we made mistakes,” Knights coach JM Sienkowski said. “They weren’t making the same mistakes as us.”

That was a change from the first three quarters, in which Oakdale made plenty more miscues and seemed to be on edge.

But the Bears soon erased all that in the final frame.

“It was a gut-check, and our guys answered today when I think sometimes, we’d be inclined to not answer,” Kowatch said. “The boys took it upon themselves to suck it up. It was tough and it was hard, but we got it done.”

NOTES: Middletown’s Jackson Bennett had a hat trick. Ryan McLister had two goals and three assists. Myles Sontz and Jackson Cavanaugh also scored. Calvin Smith made seven saves, and Brayden Soe won 12 faceoffs. The Knights will face Smithsburg on Saturday for the Central Maryland Conference Small School championship.