When a coach has to replace nearly the entire starting lineup from the previous season, there are bound to be some rough patches.
No one knows that better than Frank Welch.
The Ithaca High boys lacrosse coach found that out courtesy of a talented and determined Horseheads squad, which took the lead two minutes into the game and never let it go in a 14-10 Section 4 victory Tuesday night at Moresco Stadium.
Sophomore midfielder Ian Cook scored seven goals and senior goalie Chris Buccarelli made 13 saves to lead the Blue Raiders (1-0), who led 9-4 at halftime. Sophomore middie Carter McCormick added four goals for the winners.
“We made a lot of mistakes, but their goalie played well and their kids shot well,” said Welch, whose four-time defending Section 4 champions lost 24 seniors to graduation last year.
“We made a lot of inexperienced mistakes, but that’s part of growing up,” he said. “If we had shot better, I don’t know if we would have beaten them but I thought we might have been within a goal. We make a run and then we make a dumb mistake and give it right back to them. We could never sustain a run and shut them down.”
Horseheads coach Peter Cook — whose squad hadn’t beaten Ithaca in his 15 years — praised not only his goal-scoring son but his entire squad.
“I preach that he is only as good as the guys around him,” Coach Cook said. “He’s a sophomore and he’s got leadership ability, and everybody respects each other. They feed off one another. Obviously, he made some awesome shots and goals, but then there were a lot of assists to him and he assisted other guys. It’s a total team effort.”
Junior attack Zach Johnson had five goals and senior Charlie Estill had two to lead the Little Red (0-1), while senior goalie Matt Fricke stopped four shots.
Alexei Seymour and McCormick scored in a 47-second span to give Horseheads a 2-0 lead less than three minutes in, and Seymour scored again at the 5:29 mark to put the visitors up by three. Johnson scored off a nice individual effort to get Ithaca on the board, but McCormick scored a man-up goal off an assist from Jordan Gush with 1:30 left in the opening quarter, and it was 4-1 Horseheads after the first.
Ian Cook did the bulk of his damage in the second quarter, scoring four times, including a run of three goals in a 2:06 span after the Little Red had cut the deficit to 6-4 with 3:46 left in the half. The first goal of that run came just 15 seconds after Johnson had pulled Ithaca to within two, and Horseheads retook the momentum and threatened to run away with the game.
Cook scored again just 36 seconds into the the second half, but Ithaca responded with three unanswered goals — two by junior middie Thomas Moesch — to pull the Little Red to within three. But McCormick ended the Ithaca uprising less than a minute later off a nice feed from Cook.
Ithaca cut the deficit back to three on a Charlie Estill goal with 1:26 left in the third. After Cook converted a Gush feed 4½ minutes into the fourth quarter for his sixth goal, Johnson and senior longstick midfielder Zach Pinney scored goals just nine seconds apart to pull the home team to within two for the first time since midway through the second quarter.
But Ithaca couldn’t sustain the run, and Luke Tetrault and Cook finished Ithaca off with goals midway through the period and Horseheads clamped down defensively the rest of the way to secure the win. The entire Blue Raider bench raced onto the field to celebrate with Buccarelli when the final horn sounded.
“Ithaca’s had a pretty dominant program, and it’s still a great program,” Coach Cook said. “We knew that they lost a lot of seniors last year, and we’ve had a youth program that’s come along. The past two years, we’ve slowly but surely built it back up.”
Welch is hoping that the season-opener also serves as an eye-opener for his team, which won 69 of 77 games over the past four years and played in three state final fours.
“If anything, maybe it humbles the guys a little bit,” he said. “I think we’ve kind of been going on entitlement, we’ve been good for a long time and some of these guys have to realize that they’ve got to work and they can’t just throw it out there. Horseheads played well, and we didn’t. Hats off to them.
“We learn from it hopefully,” he said, “and go from there.”