It wasn’t going to be pretty, that much was certain. The Brighton and Hartland boys lacrosse teams knew that with the bitter cold — at least for late April — and snow, their matchup Wednesday for first place in the Lakes Conference going to be an ugly, physical battle.
It lived up to expectations.
The two usually high-octane offenses were basically non-existent in the first half, perhaps needing extra time to get acclimated to what would normally be described as football weather. The sides combined for two goals in the first, and then started heating up with a combined five in the second.
It was about as back and forth a matchup as one can get, the two going goal-for-goal in the opening 24 minutes. But in the second, it was Brighton that got hot first, and thereforeclaimed the 10-7 victory over Hartland and put itself in the driver’s seat for the Lakes Conference crown.
“The conditions, not so bad. … We’re used to it,” Brighton coach Renn Moon said. “And this was a very important game. We gotta win this if we wanna win the conference and the league — and Hartland’s a good team with some good wins on their record — so we needed to make it happen.”
Ben Finnegan also perhaps put himself in the driver’s seat for some serious consideration for postseason accolades, as it was primarily his play that sparked the Brighton offense and gave the Bulldogs the boost it needed to pull ahead, and then away into first place.
Finnegan scored five goals, four before the third quarter hit its midway point.
He was accountable for the team’s first, which tied the score only 20 seconds after Hartland’s Andrew Spisz put the Eagles ahead one and sent a Hartland crowd — that showed in up full force at Brighton High School despite the brutal weather — into an frenzy.
That momentum the Eagles, who entered the game with a seven-game regular-season losing streak to the Bulldogs, could’ve had for scoring first and taking a lead was vanquished before it could even resonate on the Hartland bench.
“We identified early that both Ben and Jake (Derosiers) could easily beat their men,” Moon said. “So we kinda adjusted our offense to allow that to happen. Clear out and allow them to beat their guys.”
Finnegan came through again at the tail end of the second. Only 16.1 seconds remained on the clock when the forward tallied a go-ahead score. This came after Hartland’s Ben Parks scored his second to knot the game six seconds earlier.
Again, the Eagles could’ve had momentum going into the halftime break. Again, Finnegan stole that from them. And he wasn’t done, either. His goal just over a minute in the second half was what finally got the Brighton offense operating.
“He had a lot of opportunities in the first half, they just weren’t going in,” Moon said. “So at the half, we talked about, ‘It’s gonna happen. The opportunities are there and, statistically, the ball’s going to go in.’ And it started doing that in the second half.’
“We just started a little slow,” Finnegan said. “But we were getting a lot of scoring opportunities. We hit the goalie, hit a couple pipes, but they started falling in the second.”
Finnegan got his hat trick to make it 5-3 with that first shot. He was immediately followed by Derosiers, who also recorded his hat trick with a score that gave Brighton a three-goal lead at 9:59 in the third. Lee Conquest would notch his first at 6:48 to make it 7-4, and then Finnegan struck again to make it 8-4.
With just over two minutes left in the third, the Bulldogs senior found an opening once more, his fifth of the day and his third of the third quarter. Brighton coach Renn Moon has praised Finnegan’s play many times before, but given the conditions and what was at stake, this performance was something special.
“He’s always been good,” Moon said, “and he’s getting to the level of great right now. … He’s a spark plug. We have a lot of guys that can score and do that, but he’s one of the guys who consistently does it in games to raise that level of excitement and make our players try harder.”
Finnegan hardly wanted to take the credit for the turnaround, however. Asked after the game if he consciously decided to put the scoring responsibility on his shoulders, he quickly deflected the question, stating his only intention was to get his teammates more involved.
“As a leader of this team, I’m responsible to try to get others involved, too,” Finnegan said. “And it’s really not that hard because they’re great players. They do most of it on their own. We’re a team. There’s not any individual aspect of it at all on me. I’m always going to try my hardest to (spark the team), but I trust all my teammates. Any one of us can get that goal to get the team going.”
Hartland, meanwhile, had a solid showing itself, just not enough to finally end that lengthy streak against the Bulldogs. It eventually got its scorers going as well — specifically Parks and Spisz, who combined for five goals with three and two, respectively — but just not to the same extent.
As a result, the Eagles dropped to second place and now must how that the Bulldogs somehow drop a game down the stretch to pull themselves back into a tie atop the standings. Of course, Brighton doesn’t plan on that happening.
“This means we won the conference,” said Finnegan, who quickly corrected himself, knowing there are a few more league games to go. “Well, it means we’re in first. But this was a big win against a good team.”
Hartland 16, Brighton 6
HARTLAND – The Hartland girls did not suffer the same fate as the boys Wednesday night, battling through the cold to defeat the Bulldogs, 16-6, and remain undefeated in the Lakes Conference.
Amy Longe tallied four goals to lead the Eagles while Hana Barrett chipped in three. Cassie Pankowski, Annalise Kulpanowski and Alyssa Hopkins each added two. Maddie Thornley made six saves.