CHARLOTTE — Entering its biggest game of the season to date, the Cardinal Gibbons boys lacrosse team had been perfect: 11 wins and zero losses.
Trailing early on in games was something the Crusaders were not used to, but Charlotte Catholic scored the first four goals in Saturday’s contest between the two teams at the North Carolina Champions Challenge in Charlotte. Gibbons was shutout in the first quarter, trailing 4-0.
In uncharted territory, the Crusaders overcame a big first half deficit and outscored Charlotte Catholic (10-2) 13-2 in the final three quarters to win 13-6 while keeping its undefeated season intact (12-0).
Senior attacker Gannon Morrison and senior midfielder Danny Geiger led Gibbons on offense with three goals apiece. Morrison also had a team-high seven assists.
The Crusaders’ big comeback win was significant to Gibbons head coach Alex Buckley because it showed him how his team handles the adversity that comes with trailing by several goals on the road.
“I’m really proud of the fact that we are able to seal out adversity in the first quarter like that, going down 4-0, and really just ignoring it,” Buckley said.
The man primarily responsible for Gibbons’ frustration in the first half was Charlotte Catholic junior midfielder Jake Priester.
Priester netted two of Charlotte Catholic’s first three goals, and when he wasn’t scoring, Priester was assisting.
Each of Charlotte Catholic’s five first half goals were either scored or set up by Priester.
Buckley had nothing but praise for Charlotte Catholic’s go-to player.
“I think Priester is absolutely outstanding,” Buckley said. “He has great vision. But more than anything, the thing that any offensive player usually impresses me with is how hard they go to the the goal, and that kid goes to the goal very, very hard.”
Priester’s second half wasn’t as successful as his first, though, as he wouldn’t score or earn another assist.
Down 5-1 in the second quarter, Gibbons ended the first half on a 2-0 run as the Crusaders trimmed the Charlotte Catholic lead in half.
The Crusaders carried that momentum into third quarter which proved to be the turning point in the game.
Morrison and sophomore attacker Kevin Barry each scored goals as Gibbons tied the game at 5-5, while Geiger’s first goal of the game gave Gibbons its first lead with 7:45 remaining in the third quarter.
Geiger attributed his three-goal performance and Gibbons’ improved second half play to better passing on offense in addition to increased communication on defense.
“We were moving the ball a little bit better and on defense we were talking more. Overall, it was just a better all-around effort,” Geiger said.
Although a goal by Charlotte Catholic junior midfielder James Powers tied the game once again at 6-6, Gibbons went right back into attack mode and ended the quarter with three straight goals by junior attacker Mark Schachte, Morrison and senior midfielder Robbie Lavelle.
Schachte left the game late in the third quarter after injuring his left ankle.
Part of the reason for Gibbons’ third quarter dominance was a big differential in time of possession.
The Crusaders held the ball for most of the second half, thanks to junior midfielder Stephen Albright’s faceoff skills.
“He’s as big of a weapon that we have. If you understand the game, you understand how important that position is, and Stephen’s as good as we’ve seen him this year,” Buckley said.
Gibbons continued its second half rout well into the fourth quarter as the Crusaders outscored Charlotte Catholic 4-0 in the final 12 minutes.
Geiger said that the team’s second half resurgence came after Buckley told the group at halftime to start playing together as one collective unit.
“He told us it’s time to get together and start acting like brothers. We did just that and from then on out, it was just us,” Geiger said.
Moving on, Gibbons will face conference foe Northwood on Friday.
Not only is Gibbons playing great on the field, but Geiger feels like the team’s chemistry is greater than ever before.
“We’re closer than we’ve ever been. We’ve never had a team like this before,” he said.
The North Carolina Champions Challenge also featured three other games as Lake Norman and Providence played each other as did Charlotte Latin and Apex, while Durham Academy played Charlotte Catholic in girls lacrosse.