CUMBERLAND — This is just the beginning.
For 18 minutes the underdog North Smithfield boys lacrosse team help undefeated top seed Mount St. Charles at bay in Saturday's Division IV final, but as has been the case in every game this season, the Mounties' superior depth and athleticism took its toll.
Led by an elite group of varsity and Academy hockey players, the Mounties scored the final five goals of the second quarter and the domination continued into a second half that felt like a coronation for a burgeoning state powerhouse. Freshman phenom Pat Murphy scored a game-high four goals, while Jason Mandeville, Ethan Letendre and Ethan Cordeiro each scored a hat trick in a 16-4 victory to claim the D-IV title at Tucker Field.
“We didn't really expect this, but it feels great,” Cordeiro said just two months after helping the U18 team reach the USA Hockey Nationals semifinals. “You want to win a championship no matter what division you're in, so it feels great. You can only hold us down for so long because we have so many scorers and we'll move the ball around and eventually find the open guy for a goal. You really can't stop it.”
“It's real easy playing with this group of guys, it takes a lot of pressure off of me,” said Murphy, who played a hockey game in Massachusetts prior to the final and then played another later in the evening. “This is my first lacrosse championship I've actually ever won. I played for NK growing up and we never won. I have a few friends on the team that won [the D-II title] today, but we'd never won growing up.”
While it might sound patronizing, the reality for North Smithfield was just reaching the final was a massive accomplishment and something worth cherishing. Senior middie Ethan Cote scored three goals and assisted on attack Luke Pasquariello's second-period effort, as the Northmen finished a season that will go down as the program's first winning campaign and their first trip to a division final.
The Northmen's only losses this season were to the Mounties.
“The kids did the right things for the first 18 minutes and it was just a two-goal game, which I was completely OK with,” North Smithfield coach Kevin Tondreau said. “We just had to stay with a few certain players that they had, but the defense started to get a little tired and they're just so deep. We needed to keep it close going into the final quarter, but things lay the way they lay.
“For these kids, this was the first season we've ever been in the playoffs and the first time we ever had a winning season. This was great for the kids.”
Mount St. Charles (9-0) only won one game by fewer than nine goals this season, so the Mounties know they're headed up a division and most likely they're going to be in Division II where they will compete with established programs like North Kingstown, South Kingstown and East Greenwich.
The Mounties, however, are only going to get better going forward. Sure, Letendre long-stick middie Jon Lagesse are graduating, but there's plenty of talent in the pipeline.
Just how deep is Mount? Freshman goalie John Parsons was incredible in net this season, but he's moving to his primary position of defense next season because another goalie is coming into the program.
“I kind of expected this to happen because we've been doing it all season,” Parsons said.
“I'd say we've taken very big steps to move the program forward this year,” said Cordeiro, who came to Mount from one of the preeminent lacrosse programs in New England, La Salle. “We would've been competitive in D-III and had a shot in D-II as well. We're taken big steps.”
Cote, who is headed to play lacrosse at Franklin Pierce, gave the Northmen a surprise lead just 1:53 into the game, but then the Mounties answered with three goals in the span of 90 seconds. Cordeiro tied the game and then Mandeville took a pass from Murphy to beat freshman Karter Chartier. Murphy scored his first goal moments later.
Cote scored a goal after a nice pass from Pasquariello to end the first quarter and then the team's traded goals twice in the first six minutes of the second quarter to keep it a two-goal game. And then Mount's athletes broke loose and the Northmen had no answers.
Cordeiro, Murphy, senior Owen Lotito, Letendre and Lagesse scored goals at the end of the second quarter to extend the lead to seven and sap the energy out of the Northmen on a hot June afternoon.
“We always seem to start slow and give up a few early goals,” Mount coach Joseph Ryan said. “We just need to find our rhythm and see what's working. At that point we just turned on the switch. North Smithfield played a great game because they didn't have as many kids as us and it was hot. They gave us a good game.”
Mount's goal in the second half was to simply get the game to running time and they achieved that with their final goal of the third quarter when Mandeville scored. Murphy, who also had two assists, scored in the quarter, while Letendre scored twice to finish off his hat trick.
The title is Mount's first since winning the 2008 Division II title. Based on the trajectory of the program, the Mounties won't have to wait another 13 seasons to celebrate in June.
“We hope this is the beginning of something,” Ryan said. “Success breeds success and kids are going to realize Mount has a lacrosse program – and a good one, so we'll see where we wind up next year. I know we're moving up, but we just don't know how high. Like this year, we'll play the schedule we get.”
Follow Branden Mello on Twitter @Branden_Mello