Try as you might, you couldn’t get either half of the Class of 2023 final at Crabfeast Sunday to label themselves as anything but the underdog.
Brotherly Love might have carried the No. 1 seed into the knockout round in Bel Air, Md. But the new club in the Philadelphia hotbed hasn’t grown out of the role of little brother just yet.
On the other side, Thunder would’ve painted itself as scrappy upstarts no matter what, even if Saturday’s results hadn’t landed them as the No. 10 seed with a long road to the final. Being a lacrosse club from Georgia means getting used to being underestimated.
So both teams had more than just each other to dispatch in the final. And when Brotherly Love pulled away late in an 8-6 victory, there wasn’t just the joy of celebrating together. There was also pleasure to be taken in a little extra urgency when people whisper the question, “wait, where are they from?”
“I definitely feel like we’re kind of looked down on,” midfielder Austin Conner (Strath Haven, Pa.) said, “because everyone’s been playing with each other since they were young.”
Loving close games
The weekend offered plenty of practice for Brotherly Love in close games. It survived a 5-4 decision over Team 91 Charlotte on Saturday to go unbeaten and nab the top seed. After easing by Resolute Black in the quarterfinals, it edged Next Level Blue, 7-6, to get to the final.
Brotherly Love led most of the way in the final until the fourth, when a goal by Greyson Brockman (West Forysth, Ga.) tied it up. But Brotherly Love went up a man and executed perfectly to get the ball to Conner on the left wing to rifle home his third goal of the game.
“I was scared because the time before, we didn’t really execute it well,” Conner said. “But we moved the ball well, we got the low guy to slide and I was able to get my hands free and get the goal.”
Matteo Ruttora’s second goal of the game a few minutes later sealed the win.
A (nearly) perfect 10
Goals were tough to come by for Brotherly Love after a four-goal second quarter. That was largely due to a cohesive defensive unit and Anderson Moore in goal.
That bond as underdogs works for the Thunder’s defensive unit, cohering it together for some fundamental play.
“I think we’re always underrated, and I think that’s always been a factor being for Georgia,” defender Donny Scott (Hill Academy, Ont.) said. “We just try to play our best, and it works. … When we get there, we know we have it, we’re just showing everyone else we have it.”
NLF No. 34 ’23 Niko Karetsos (Pace, Ga.) scored twice for 10th-seeded Thunder in the final, both set up by Hill Plunkett. Defender Brian Edwards (Grady, Ga.) added a goal. Alex Lobel (Roswell, Ga.) tallied three goals across the final and semifinal. For the group, making the long trip to Maryland and getting to take down a team like Team 91 LI Bandits in the semis is quite the feather in the cap.
Brotherly Love’s run feels similar to them. They got outstanding contributions from the defense in front of Patrick Jameison (Conestoga, Pa.). Bret Bergey (Downingtown West, Pa.), Marek Seaman (West Chester Rustin, Pa.) and Wells Flinn (Haverford School, Pa.) all stepped up with big goals from midfield, and Ryan Cunningham (Salesianum, Del.) had a solid day at the X.
For a team that is only a few years old, Sunday’s title is confirmation that they’re growing on the right path, together.
“It’s just practicing,” Conner said. “We all have really good relationships with each other, so it’s playing as a team, everyone going to practice and working hard.”
Crabfeast 2023 Standouts
Lucca DiBartolomeo ’24, LSM, Malvern Prep (Pa.) / Brotherly Love
Both Brotherly Love LSMs loomed large, with Michael Waite (Downingtown East, Pa.) also impressing. (Waite had an assist in the semifinal.) DiBartolomeo, a cancer survivor who earned a ton of playing time for NLFRankings.com No. 2 Malvern Prep this spring, was noticeable for his open-field speed, his diligence on the ground, his elusiveness to get out of trouble and his active stick to harass opponents and get be a constant presence in passing lanes.
Austin Conner, midfield, Strath Haven (Pa.) / Brotherly Love
With three goals in the final and a goal and an assist in the semifinal, it’s hard not to highlight Conner. The Strath Haven sophomore tallied 49 times and added 25 assists as the Panthers’ go-to guy. He’s an elite finisher, but he’s also a strong passer and a physical on-ball presence, able to create space for himself and protect possession.
Patrick Jameison, goalie, Conestoga (Pa.)/Brotherly Love
Brotherly Love allowed eight goals in three games Saturday and 16 in three games Sunday. Jameison, a rare Eastern Pa. sophomore All-American, was the biggest reason. He’s an outstanding shot-stopper, covering corners high and getting low well given his tall frame. But the intangibles that he piles on – tremendous communication, active stick on passes near the crease, quickness to cover shots or challenge shooters 1-v-1 – help separate him from peers.
Sam Barton, defense, Downingtown East (Pa.) / Brotherly Love
With that defensive record, highlighting an LSM and a goalie doesn’t seem enough, so let’s add a close defenseman. Barton is not the most physically imposing pole, but he wields his stick to covers plenty of acreage. He moves extremely well, his slides are clean and he recovers quickly within the team concept.
Alex Lobel did more finishing on Sunday, but it’s Plunkett that dictates the Thunder attack. Plunkett, who committed to the Black Knights on July 1, attracts the defense’s attention, which he capitalizes on with his superb passing. His long legs give him deceptive quickness in gaining a step on defenders, and he’s strong enough to create the narrow windows to punish defenses with his tremendous shot. He has all the pieces that you want in an elite attacker.
We touched on Plunkett and Lobel, but with 63 goals in seven games, it’s worth sneaking another attackman in. Karetsos is the perfect foil to Plunkett, a left-handed attackman with an outstanding shot. Their ability to both operate out of X with mirror-image dodges around the cage is the stuff of goalies’ nightmares, and Karetsos in particular is adept at creating shooting angles while roaring upfield.
Anderson Moore, goalie, Briarwood Christian (Ala.) / Thunder
From the burgeoning hotbed that is Alabama, Moore worked the second halves on Sunday for Thunder. He’s got the kind of frame that deters you from shooting high, but is flexible to repel low shots. Moore also has the fast-twitch reflexes to respond to what attackers throw at him, from intercepting passes through the crease to covering shots.
For all the defenders that are “deceptively” big, there’s no deception with Hakimi. He’s every bit of 6-4, and at times it seems there’s no way around him. He can out-physical dodgers up top, and his galloping strides mean he keeps middies in front of him. He had a goal against Brotherly Love, displaying the ability to gobble up real estate in transition and the stick skills to cash in when he gets there.
Maliik Wood, attack, Bullis School (Md.) / Next Level Blue
Wood is one of several Bullis connections. He scored a goal and had an assist in the semifinal loss to Brotherly Love, and his strength seems to be in creating space. Whether that’s running by a guy or using his upper body strength to create leverage, he is able to get his hands free. And once they’re free, he’s got the heavy shot and passing vision to make defenses pay.
Eric Grahn, goalie, Bayport Blue Point (N.Y.)/Team 91 LI Bandits
Thunder put 11 past the Bandits, but Grahn had some big moments in the crease. He moved well side-to-side on one very impressive stop to stone an attackman left all alone. His distribution is strong and he did well against a range of shots from Thunder.
Hoffman showed his tremendous two-way ability on one passage where he scooped a GB and head-manned a transition attack to goal. He can do a little of everything, from his physical presence at both ends of the field to his ability to create off the dodge for himself and teammates.