If there’s a will, then there’s a way when it comes to this current edition of the Novi Detroit Catholic Central lacrosse squad.
The host Shamrocks trailed Beverly Hills Detroit Country Day in Wednesday’s MHSAA Division 1 semifinal almost 44 of the 48 minutes, but CC came up big in the final quarter getting the game-winning goal from junior Rocco Mularoni with only 1:19 left to oust last year’s Division 2 state champions, 14-13.
“We just kept working and things just started to go our way,” said Mularoni, who finished with five goals and two assists. “We just kept working hard all game and eventually things just started to come to us. Our team has just been playing well lately, so it just helps when you don’t get broken down all game when you’re down by one goal. You just keep fighting.”
The victory puts CC, now 16-5 overall, in its fifth title game in school history against Catholic League rival and state juggernaut Birmingham Brother Rice (18-4), which will be gunning for its 11th consecutive state championshiop beginning at 2 p.m. Saturday at Troy Athens.
“Any time you can get to the state finals, it’s a fantastic feeling,” CC coach Dave Wilson said. “One, it’s so great because we get to go on and represent our school at the highest level. And two, we only have six seniors, so the kids that have stuck with it so long and worked this hard … we’ve made a lot of sacrifices.”
CC trailed 7-6 at halftime, but pulled even at 11-all with 6:00 to go in the third period on Mularoni’s goal from Justin Baker.
But the Yellowjackets (15-7) got a goal from Devon Callaghan with 5:05 left in the same period and another by the senior midfielder with 11:10 left in the match to go up 13-11.
But that would last goal Country Day would get as 6-foot, 230-pound sophomore goalie Hunter Braun came up with several critical saves down the stretch.
“We came from behind before,” Braun said. “We beat Brighton from behind. We knew we could do it riding on our seniors’ back. Made a couple of big saves at the end. Our defense held them without a shot in the last 10 seconds. And our offense put the ball in the back of the net almost every possession.”
CC had lost 13-10 to the Yellowjackets back on March 25 and the game plan was to force the DCD to shoot from the perimeter.
“We actually came in letting them shoot the far shots knowing that we didn’t want them getting inside shots, so they trusted me to take the outside saves, so that’s what we did,” Braun said.
While Country Day buzzed around the CC goal druing the final 2:26, Braun proved to be the brick wall the Shamrocks were looking for. One shot in particular appeared to be headed into the back of the net with CC clinging to a one-goal lead.
“I saw it go opposite side, I knew I couldn’t get my stick there so I just threw my arm in front of it and made the save,” Braun said.
Mularoni had scored with 6:05 remaining to pull CC within one, 13-12, and Andrew Schertzer’s goal with 2:52 left from Mularoni evened the count at 13-all.
Mularoni then tallied the game-winner off an assist from Zack Crawford.
“We just know everything has going to be alright,” Mularoni said. “We’ve been there before and we just knew how to handle ourselves. We work on high pressure situations in practice every day, so we knew how to handle it.”
Crawford added three goals, while Joe Sullivan and Nick Capatina contributed two each for CC. Freshman Peter Thompson also had a goal along with Schertzer.
Mularoni, meanwhile, tallied all five of his goals in the second half.
“He had a tendency all year to kind of stop moving his feet and he kept moving his feet,” Wilson said. “Any time you shoot, you have a chance. He’s given himself a chance by moving his feet and getting some shots off.”
Emilio Sosa and Copper Belanger each scored four goals, while Callaghan added three for Country Day. David Pohl also chipped in with two.
“We had a lot of shots,” Country Day coach Michael Cappelletti said. “We had a lot of opportunities that we normally like to think we’d score. But I made a promise to myself a long time ago that I’d never stand here in one of these things and say, ‘I wish we’d shot better,’ because I think that’s a cop-out as a coach.
“They went out there and got the ground balls, they did a better job than us. Man, they (CC) competed and that’s a credit to their kids and coaches.”
The Yellowjackets captured last year’s Division 2 final against Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook, but opted up to play in Division 1 at least for the next two seasons.
“We believe that’s where we belong,” Cappelletti said. “It’s what we wanted to do. A lot of people talk about having lofty goals or aiming and that’s what we want to do. We thought we did a great job of competing there this year. We would have liked another shot at Brother Rice, but Detroit Catholic Central earned that opportunity today. Hats off to them. They’ll get that chance on Saturday and I’m sure they’re excited about that and their kids deserve it.”
Meanwhile, CC will try and avenge last year’s 23-7 state final setback to Rice, which beat the Shamrocks back on April 28 in their only encounter this season, 14-6.
Country Day is the only school from Michigan to beat Rice in the past 10 years and now CC will get its fifth chance to unseat the Warriors and earn its first-ever state crown.
“We did a huge culture change a couple of years ago with off season workouts at 6:30 in the morning,” Wilson said. “They stuck with it, they believe and they’re paying attention. They’re buying in and they’re teaching our 14 juniors, seven sophomores and one freshman how to go about the right way. It’s a massive thing for us.”