The Northville boys lacrosse team can claim the KLAA Kensington Conference title, but this time it’s all to themselves.
After sharing the crown last season in a three-way tie, the Mustangs captured the crown outright Wednesday night with a 12-5 triumph over arch-rival Novi.
Northville, which won its eighth straight and improved to 10-3 overall, finishes 6-0 in the Kensington, a game ahead of the host Wildcats, who slipped to 9-3 overall and 5-1 conference.
The Mustangs will also get a chance to play for the overall KLAA Association title when they take on Lakes Conference champion Brighton beginning at 7 p.m. Monday, May 11 at home (Tom Holzer Field).
It was a tight defensive battle at halftime with the two teams tied 3-all.
Brennan Sweeney, Harry Dyson and Alec Melucci scored for the Mustangs, while Michael Leone (from Michael Werth), Ryan Moore and Werth (from Tommy McMaster) countered with goals for the Wildcats.
But the Mustangs took control of the match during the third quarter by outscoring Novi 5-1 to take an 8-4 advantage getting goals from Dyson (from Nate Holloway), Melucci, Connor Sweeney (from Josh Bentley), Rob Sneed (from Brennan Sweeney) and Bentley.
Moore scored with 7:26 to go in the third to cut the deficit to 5-4, but the Wildcats went scoreless for the next 15 minutes and 11 seconds before Anthony Zugaro broke the drought with a goal to make it 9-5 with 4:15 remaining.
Northville then closed out the match with three unanswered goals during the final four minutes by Connor Sweeney (from Brennan Sweeney), Bentley and Melucci all found the back of the net.
“We made a couple of adjustments,” Northville coach Greg Durham said. “We were throwing the ball away a little bit in the first half and we didn’t score on our extra man offense. We were getting a little frustrated, but what I did was put Josh Bentley at midfield and he was getting the short stick on them. He can beat anybody one-on-one short-wise because he wasn’t getting any looks this way. He was actually the difference in the game and had two goals in the second half.”
Novi concentrated its defensive efforts on stopping Northville’s leading scorer and All-American Alec Melucci. And it worked during the first half as the Wildcats limited the senior standout to one goal (with only 12 seconds left until intermission).
“We got Tommy McMaster and he’s one of the best long poles in the state,” Novi coach Eric Hoffman said. “He did a great job. I think he (Melucci) had one (goal) where he beat him cleanly the whole game. Other than that Tommy did a real nice job on him.”
But concentrating on Melucci left the door open for others to score, namely twins Connor and Brennan Sweeney, who combined for four goals
“They played really well and that was a help,” Durham said. “They controlled the ball in the second half for us. We told the guys, ‘Don’t slow it down, just get better looks, and get the high-quality shots. We don’t want to be shooting way outside.'”
Meanwhile, Northville goalie Alex Justice (seven saves) had plenty of help from his midfielders and defenders as well.
“Connor Wright played awesome, just stood on his head,” Durham said. “Spencer Gonda did really well for us at the ‘X,’ but overall it was just a great team effort, I thought, even Paul Lindow and (David) Morrissey played really good ‘D,’ so we clamped down on their midfielders. And we knew what they were going to do and we just tried to restrict them in the goal area.”
Meanwhile, Novi’s offense got completely bogged down in the second half.
“We just made a lot of mental mistakes, just throwing and catching,” Hoffman said. “They took advantage of some mistakes that we made. They had the momentum and it was hard to get the momentum back.
“Fundamentally they just threw the ball around better than we did. We made mental mistakes and were in box too much, way too man man-up opportunities for Northville. When you’re a man down it’s hard to win a lacrosse games.”
And despite the loss, Hoffman singled out one shining star.
“Dan Savela (14 saves) played great today,” the Novi coach said of his senior goalie. “He was probably one of our best players on the field today.”