SARASOTA — The Bishop Verot boys lacrosse team has won four consecutive district titles, but has yet to get past a first-round play-in game. Vikings coach Gary Neese challenged himself to prepare his players to take that next step.
Unfortunately, Sarasota Cardinal Mooney will more than likely be there again to try and stop his team next season.
Mooney (19-5) eliminated Verot (14-9) for the third straight season as four different Cougars tallied two goals in a 12-4 victory Friday at Austin Smithers Stadium.
The Cougars move on to face Barron Collier, a 12-11 winner over Gulf Coast, in a second-round play-in game Tuesday. Meanwhile, the Vikings were left with a bitter taste in their mouths after losing another win-or-go-home game against Mooney by eight goals or more.
“They’re a talented team. They’re well-coached,” Neese said of Mooney. “They probably play some better competition around the Tampa area. Lee County is probably one of the weaker districts in the state. Unfortunately, we’re committed to playing all those teams twice and it doesn’t give us a chance to branch out as much as we can against other quality teams.”
Mooney scored four of the first five goals in the first quarter and eventually took a 7-2 lead when Caleb Ward whipped a shot into the back of the net with under five minutes left in the first half.
Senior attacker Reagan Griffith, the Lynn University signee who had two goals, in particular gave Verot problems. He tallied the first goal of the game and an insurance goal in the fourth to put the game out of reach.
“He just killed us,” Neese said. “Good thing he’s graduating. Maybe that will give us a chance next year.”
Verot outscored Mooney 2-1 in the third quarter behind scores from midfielder Olin Peck and attacker Joe Cerniglia to cut the lead to four goals. However, the momentum shifted dramatically early in the fourth on Mooney midfielder Christian Berendes’ second goal of the game.
The five-goal deficit with 10 minutes to play forced the Vikings out of their zone and into a man-to-man defense out of desperation, which allowed Mooney to pick it apart for three more goals.
While Neese’s frustration showed at times during the game, he couldn’t deny Verot had added another successful season to the books.
“I’m always going to look at winning our district as a successful season,” Neese said. “Right now, we’re trying to take that next step and get into the state playoffs. That’s the hurdle we have to clear. We have a lot of players coming back. We’re going to try again next year. That’s my challenge to get this team to that level.”