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There’s not much more that the Baltimore Crabs’ 2024 team could’ve done defensively on Saturday.
At the Big 4 Champions League Summer at Hill School, Crabs allowed four goals in three round-robin games, pitching a pair of shutouts to start the tournament. But after an awkward fall left them without top defenseman Peter Laake, the NLF’s No. 1 player in the 2024 class, for Sunday’s championship rounds, the plan had to shift slightly.
“It was a little different,” Crabs defenseman and Laake’s Loyola Blakefield teammate Liam Powell said. “He’s one of my best friends and someone I connect really well with on the field. It’s a little difficult at times, but we have a good group of guys that we can really get the job done. Peter’s obviously a massive loss, but we’re still strong. I do miss him on the field, though, I’ll tell you that.”
Miss him, yes, as anyone would for a five-star defender. But look like they miss him? Not all that much.
The Crabs continued a fast start to the summer by winning the Champions League 2024 crown, needing to rally past Laxachusetts Black, 9-8, in an exciting final.
Crabs Feast En Route to Title
Crabs coasted into the final with a 15-5 win over Burning River and a 13-7 decision over Big 4 HHH, in which they led 12-4 at half. But the final was a different matter. And whoever was present, it required Powell and company not getting overly confident.
“We try to not have an ego, keep a level head and ready for the next opponent,” Powell said. “No one’s better than us in our opinion, but we’ve still got to play up and not play down to other teams’ levels. Today it was a tough game. It was a one-score game most of the way and then we took off in the third and fourth quarters and really kept it.”
Laxachusetts put up a fight, leading 6-4 in the third quarter. But Crabs rattled off five straight goals to put the game away.
NLF No. 18 ’24 Spencer Ford (Boys’ Latin, Md.) started it. Justin Brown (St. Paul’s, Md.) tucked home a feed, Mason Cook (Loyola Blakefield, Md.) buried a shot (moments after ringing the post), then Chase Hallam (Severn, Md.) and George Insley (Boys’ Latin, Md.) added on, the full array of Crabs offensive talents on display.
Laxachusetts pushed late on, with Nate Austin-Johnstone (Thayer, Mass.) and Dante Mariani (Xaverian Brothers, Mass.) scoring in the final 90 seconds. But the faceoff dominance of Crabs’ Reid Gills (Severn, Md.) made it difficult to sustain momentum, and the Powell-led defense saw off one last possession to close the game out.
For a team that entered with plenty of hype, Crabs withstood that pressure and showed themselves to be worthy of it.
“It’s just, we’ve got to win,” Powell said. “We’ve got to play our game and not get in our own heads. We make mistakes, we make good plays – it doesn’t matter, we’ve got to keep going and keep playing the best game we can play.”
Big 4 Champions League 2024 Standouts
Ed. Note: Standouts were only chosen from Sunday’s semifinal teams.
Ford is a pick-your-poison attackman. He’s so dangerous coming upfield through X and goal line extended that defenses often opted to contain him behind the cage. When you do that, he can pick you apart with his passing ability, and with the abundance of quality shooters on this Crabs team, they will make you pay. He’s also an excellent captain of the man-up unit from up top, has long arms to get around defenders to shoot and works hard on the ground and on the ride. Ford was dominant in the semifinal win over Big 4 HHH and added a big goal to the comeback in the final.
Liam Powell, defense, Loyola Blakefield (Md.) / Crabs
Powell made the absence of Laake – and the Crabs’ possession of just three instead of four Loyola Blakefield poles – look routine. He’s a vocal leader with great field awareness, an outstanding stick and deceptive athleticism. He moves well in the open field and is an escape valve in transition, and he’s extremely disciplined in his checks. Powell ended one of the last Laxachusetts attacks in the final with a yard sale check that looked way more routine than it should have.
Gills dominated, almost laughably so. He’s so quick on the draw and wins so many cleanly that he has the opponent automatically on the back foot. It’s almost a win for the other team if you can just turn him back, since the majority of his wins seems to be fastbreaks. The lopsided scores Crabs put up most of the weekend resulted from the near make-it, take-it. “It’s a huge relief off our shoulders as a defense because we really don’t have to play a lot,” Powell said of Gills. “We don’t have to play all the defense in the world, because Reid is the best FOGO in the country, in my opinion.”
Justin Brown, midfield, St. Paul’s (Md.) / Crabs
Take your pick here. It says something about Crabs that their decisive 5-0 run came from five different scorers. Mason Cook has a rocket shot. George Insley is a big body. Chase Hallam is shifty. But Brown gets the advantage because of his hands: He’s willing to slip into greasy areas around the crease and absorb punishment, but playing with a feeder like Ford, he’s always ready to receive passes in tough tight spots and fire off quick shots.
Andrew Kasten, midfield, McDonogh (Md.) / Crabs
Kasten is an athletic, two-way mid in the mold of recent McDonough standouts (think Hugh Brown and Matt McMillen). He gets up and down the field, turns in a heady shift on the defensive end, is a terror in transition and knows how to create for himself and teammates when he’s dodging.
Kenney is just everywhere. With his wingspan, long strides and positional awareness, you almost cede half of the field to him and take your chances on the other side. He’s constantly in passing lanes, able to turn them into turnovers thanks to his savvy and his stick skills. He works extremely hard off the ball, slides savagely out to possession, recovers efficiently and is a threat in transition.
Sean Crogan, midfield, Lexington (Mass.) Laxachusetts
There’s so much in common between Crogan and his older brother, Class of 2022 Georgetown signee Pat Crogan. Sean Crogan hustles up and down the field. He’s sturdy in the defensive half and willing to be more physical than his frame might suggest. With the ball, he uses his low center of gravity and array of moves to get under defensemen. Crogan is able to shoot with power and placement and facilitates well for others, at speed on this dodge.
Pearse MacDonald, midfield, Governor’s (Mass.) / Laxachusetts
Laxachusetts has a lot of options offensively, and they spread the burden pretty evenly on Sunday. MacDonald separated himself in the final. He’s rangy, with long arms to get a lot of whip on his shot and long strides to get away from defenders. But it’s his ability to create at speed, whether picking out a corner for a shot on the run or feeding a teammate, that makes him so difficult to corral.
Kenney shows up on the stat sheet more, but Fox is just as good, and the complementary styles make a productive pairing. Already on his second standout mention of the summer, which is a good sign, Fox is a lockdown close defender, with great fundamentals, a heavy stick and quick feet. He plays bigger than he is, using his excellent technique to cover more ground, between his movement and his stickwork, than you might assume just by looking at him. He provides the solid platform for players like Kenney to make plays.
The team that traveled the furthest distance ran out of gas Sunday, but they had some impressive moments. Bambrick is one player who jumps off the page: He’s an imposing dodger who can bully short-stick d-middies. But for his size, he’s got quick feet, passes well and has a cannon of a shot, particularly when he gets a head of steam running at you.
Team Oregon has a few guys like Bambrick – strong, straight-ahead types. That requires a sophisticated attackman to orchestrate, and Malkiel has that game. He’s elusive, super shifty and able to withstand contact when operating out of X. He’s also an excellent passer, able to hit the middies around him when they’re moving off the ball.
Hudson Lewis, defense, Jesuit (Ore.) / Team Oregon
Lewis is an intelligent defensive leader. He marshalled the Oregon defense throughout, providing big plays time and again. He knows how and when to take risks within the team defensive set up, and he’s got the quickness, savvy and outstanding stick to make those plays. His stick is always hounding his opponent, and he is fearsome when he slides out on an attacker.
Brady Smith, goalie, Jesuit (Ore.) / Team Oregon
The game against Laxachusetts could’ve been a blowout if not for Smith, who made some truly outstanding saves. As a sophomore, Smith backstopped Jesuit to its first state championship, stopping more than 60 percent of shots in the process. He’s got a lot of things going for him, as a goalie who’s quick to cover shots and is aware of passing lanes around his crease. But in terms of raw shot-stopping, he made some absolutely outstanding denials against Laxachusetts – he had nine saves in the first half of their semi, on the way to north of 15 for the game.
Finn Dougherty, midfield, La Salle (Pa.) / Big 4 HHH
Dougherty looked like HHH’s most consistent scoring threat Sunday. He’s got a big shot and is a handful off the dodge, but he’s also difficult for defenders to stay in front of. He changes direction well, uses his body and is, for a big kid, fairly elusive.
Hayes Schreiner, goalie, Springside Chestnut Hill (Pa.) / Big 4 HHH
If not for Schreiner, the 13-7 loss to Crabs in the semifinal could’ve gotten much more lopsided. As a tall goalie, Schreiner was tough to beat high. SCH’s starter this year as a sophomore, he also got low on shots extremely well. He confronts shooters well, making himself big and showing no fear in throwing himself at shots.