CASTLETON -- Number seven?
More like No. 1.
With time winding down in a tie game in the Division II boys lacrosse finals, No. 7 Burr and Burton Academy had the ball and all they needed was one more look.
One more look to bring them to their first state title since 2009. One more look to banish the demons of three consecutive playoff losses to the No. 1 Green Mountain Valley School. One more look to validate themselves as the best that Division II has to offer.
And they got it.
With just under four seconds left, BBA sophomore Max Pagnucco found senior Tom Morgantini right in front of the Gumbies' cage. Without even thinking, Morgantini wound up and put the ball past the GMVS goalie and a defender.
Morgantini's strike lifted BBA to an 8-7 win over their bitter rivals, bringing to a close a game that was back-and-forth from start to finish.
"I just kind of saw Tom open at the edge of the crease and he had a nice finish," Pagnucco said afterwards, his smile stretching from Castleton to Manchester. "It's just crazy to win this."
"Coach gave us a timeout and we wanted one more look," Morgantini said. "We moved it around, I was on the crease, moved from the wing to the crease, and I caught the defender with his head the other way and just finished it. I showed my fans what's up."
The goal marked a fitting ending to the contest, which saw the lead change four times and tied another four times. It was classic BBA against GMVS.
"We have lost to these guys three years in a row," Morgantini said. "Us seniors, we were sick of losing to these guys. This one means a lot."
"It was a fun game, it was a great test for us," GMVS coach Sam Jackson said. "But unfortunately, we came up a little short today. We played as well as we could have. Their effort was phenomenal."
But for a game that finished 8-7, the opening quarter led the large crowd packed into Spartan Stadium to believe a defensive battle was in store.
It took six minutes for the first goal to come, through BBA freshman Carter Vickers (2 goals), and GMVS tied things up with less than a minute to go in the first on the first of two goals by Max Stamler. But after one, that was all the teams had to show.
But in the second, things began to open up when GMVS took the lead on a snipe by Christian Gallagher (2 goals) to make it 2-1 GMVS. A minute later, Gallagher struck again to make it 3-1.
BBA, though, had the answers. With 5:44 to go in the half, GMVS goalie Casey Cardon (10 saves) made a critical mistake when, as he tried to clear the ball, it took a bounce off of Pagnucco (3 goals, 1 assist) and into the net. Off of the ensuing draw, senior Ben Alexopoulos scored arguably his greatest goal ever when he juked a defender at the right post, then brought his stick over his shoulder and behind his back to fire it into the netting.
"I've tried a couple times in other games and they just fly a little wide," Alexopoulos said. "Coach pulled me aside and told me I had to adjust my shoulders. I thought today was the day. I work well under pressure, so I just took him to the outside, low angle, behind the back and just hugged that pipe."
The goal kept BBA's momentum going, and with 2:20 left in the half Pagnucco hit to make it 4-3 when he hugged a pick set by Vickers.
"I know, as a whole, we moved as a unit today," Alexopoulos said. "Overall, good passes, good picks and good communication led us to big goals."
But with both teams going into halftime with a man in the penalty box, the Gumbies struck first after the break.
Killing off the last 20 seconds of their penalty, GMVS stayed patient with the ball then Stamler struck from the wing to make it 4-4.
GMVS couldn't keep the momentum, however. Five minutes after Stamler's score, Alexopoulos gave BBA the lead back on a shot from distance to make it 5-4 BBA. 10 seconds later, off another draw, Pagnucco scooped up a groundball and drove at the defense, firing low to make it 6-4.
"Overall, I thought [Max] had a great game," junior goalie Mike Sztorc (10 saves) said. "He stayed cool in the playoffs, and that's a great thing to do. As a young player, I remember getting scared out there."
GMVS pulled the next goal back on a man-up situation, as Christian Gallagher picked out Jack Despres to make it 6-5. BBA would go two up again on a goal from Vickers assisted by Alexopoulos, but with 41 seconds left, Patrick Gallagher struck to make it 7-6 going into the final frame.
In the fourth, GMVS struck first with 10 minutes to go. Sztorc, coming out of his crease to chase down a shot and try and win possession back, was caught out on the restart when GMVS was awarded the ball and Patrick Gallagher struck for his second goal of the game.
"[The goal] was pretty big. I'm used to high school rules, basically. I never knew once you came here its college rules," Sztorc said. "I looked at it as a motivator. I turned around and said, you know what, I'm going to get this momentum back. I let my team down, now I'm going to go and try to get back at them."
As time wore down in the fourth, the Gumbies stayed patient on offense to try and create a look. When BBA got the ball back, they couldn't set up an offense and ended up turning it over.
The BBA defense, though, wasn't about to let another goal in.
"That just goes back to what we have been preaching all year, just team fundamentals and team chemistry," Sztorc said. "We did a good job on tight, team defense. Those guys know how to break down defenses, that's why they are number one. We came in yesterday and we really talked about how we are going to work as a unit to shut these guys down, and that's what we did today."
With three minutes left, GMVS had the ball down in its offensive end and took a timeout to regroup. But out of the break, the Gumbies couldn't find a goal. With less than 60 seconds left, BBA coach Jason Pergament took a timeout to organize his troops.
"I don't know what I expected to happen," Pergament said. "I called a timeout to get our hot hands on the field. I knew we had one chance to score the ball before overtime. I pretty much put in my man-up offense and told them they know what they needed to do."
Pagnucco had seen Morgantini open a few times in previous trips, but wasn't sure he could get him the ball. As time started to come to an end, though, Pagnucco pulled the trigger.
"It was kind of there all game," Pagnucco said. "It was great to find him there. Scoring with three seconds left, it's just "
Pagnucco didn't finish the sentence, but what he meant was obvious. It was just incredible.
"I haven't called plays all season. I don't believe that A equals B," Pergament said. "Lacrosse is all about pulling together, chemistry, it's about moving the ball and believing in each other, and that's what they did."
The win marks the first time since 2009 that BBA has won a D-II lacrosse title. The Bulldogs had been in five finals from 2005 to 2009 before entering the wilderness for a while. But now the Bulldogs are back, and Pergament thinks they are here to stay.
"That sophomore class, you are going to see them more over the coming years," Pergament said. "I don't believe this is a one-time deal. I think we will make runs at the championship for several years to come."
BBA ends the season at 12-7, while GMVS finishes 14-1.