Northwood switches style, trounces Swansboro in first round

BY VICTOR HENSLEY, News + Record Staff
Posted 3/16/21

PITTSBORO — The Northwood men are moving on to the second round of the playoffs.

That’s a sentence you probably could have written at halftime on Monday.

The Northwood Chargers …

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Northwood switches style, trounces Swansboro in first round

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Posted

PITTSBORO — The Northwood men are moving on to the second round of the playoffs.

That’s a sentence you probably could have written at halftime on Monday.

The Northwood Chargers earned a commanding home win over the 10th-seeded Swansboro Pirates on Monday night, 17-8, to advance to the second round of the NCHSAA 1A/2A/3A Men’s Lacrosse playoffs.

Despite the score showing a single-digit contest, it wasn’t actually that close.

To close out the night, Northwood Head Coach Randy Cox used the fourth quarter to substitute his starters for younger players on the team who don’t typically get much playing time. This way, they could gain experience in a postseason situation.

The Pirates scored four of their eight goals in that final period — all but one coming from senior attacker Zechariah Frantz — when Northwood had all but let its guard down.

“We did get everybody in the game which is nice, we played a lot of people,” Cox said. “That’s to help build confidence and really continue to develop our program, so it worked out well.”

In reality, Northwood was in control of this game from the moment the ball was dropped for the opening face-off.

After a few back-and-forth turnovers to start things off, the Chargers began to settle into their rhythm, leading to an opening goal from senior attacker Terry Moore, followed by three-straight goals from senior attacker — and team leader in goals scored — Jake Mann.

By the end of the first quarter, it was 5-0. Northwood showed no signs of letting up.

For most of the game, it was the Chargers’ defense that stole the show. It was their aggressiveness, their ability to swarm to the ball, their technique of using their sticks to both take control of and cause discomfort for opposing players.

The first half, in which they allowed just two goals, was a masterclass in rattling an offense. A major key to Northwood’s win on Monday — and any victory they earn moving forward — is an old adage from former Alabama football head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant: Defense wins championships.

“I’m going to give credit where credit is due because Coach (Eric) Ditter heads up our defense and he has an aggressive style,” said Cox. “We’re going to rely on them down the stretch. We’re going to rely on our offense to go ahead and produce, too, but defense wins championships. If we can keep the ball out of the goal, I think we can give ourselves a chance.”

As great as the shutout first quarter was for the Chargers, it was the second period where everything began to come together.

Northwood is a team that typically likes to play a more controlled style of offense. Methodical. Paced. Poised. Possessive. Focusing on ball movement, the Chargers often look like a predator hunting their prey, patiently waiting, moving the ball around and around, looking for the perfect moment to strike.

However, Monday’s second quarter was much more about striking than it was about waiting.

In three minutes, from the 6:35 mark to the 3:35 mark, the Chargers scored five goals as they broke down the Pirates’ defenders possession after possession.

On a couple of possessions, a Northwood player scooped up the face-off after a goal, took it immediately down the center of the field and dumped it off to a teammate, who scored an easy goal.

An example of this is when senior midfielder Kade Little won the face-off with ease, ran it down the center and barrelled towards the net, but dumped it off to a teammate on the left at the last second, who orchestrated a couple of quick passes across the crease until it got to Moore, who slotted it into the net for a simple, point-blank goal.

In total, that possession lasted 10 seconds.

Another of their possessions took just eight seconds.

It was the exact opposite of Northwood’s typical style, one that featured rapid-fire shots, quick decision-making and speedy ball movement. But it worked.

“Every opportunity is an opportunity to try and develop and teach, so we wanted to go ahead and press in that way … just to see how well we could do it,” Cox said. “We really tried to go ahead and press our offense to see if we could get some quick goals and produce some offense, and we did.”

A wizard with the stick, Mann led the team in goals on Monday with six, along with two assists, followed by Moore with four goals.

Northwood scored 17 goals on the night, but could have easily gotten well over 20 if it weren’t for the phenomenal goalkeeping by Swansboro junior Hunter Shank, who tallied 27 saves, a massive feat.

“Their goalie played really, really well,” Cox said. “Their goalie really caused a lot of havoc for us ... so hats off to their goalie, hats off to their team.”

Despite the game’s score and Northwood’s dominating win, Cox still found a couple of issues that he said he wants to see fixed moving forward, including the team’s “mental breakdowns” at times during the game, which occasionally led to turnovers and bad positioning on both sides of the field.

“I think they’d agree that we didn’t play as well as we’re capable of playing,” Cox said. “We had moments where we were playing really, really well. And then we had moments where we broke down. … As we move along and as we advance, we can’t have those mental breakdowns. It’s a win. It’s not as nice of a win as we would like, but it’s a ‘W.’”

Even with a couple of mistakes made, Northwood moves on with a relatively comfortable win and is scheduled to play second-seeded Orange on the road in Hillsborough on Wednesday at 7 p.m. In the first matchup between the two schools on March 8, the Chargers prevailed with a 17-6 win.

“This one’s behind us and I think it sort of gets the jitters out of everybody,” Cox said. “There’s always that little bit of nervous energy, doesn’t matter who you’re playing. There will be jitters when we start on Wednesday night depending on where we’re playing … I just hope they’ll settle down so that we’re rockin’ and rollin’ and we come away with the ‘W.’”

Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at vhensley@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.

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