BY TIM TAYLOR
Tioga County Sports Report
OWEGO — Owego is about to step onto the big stage — the boys lacrosse state playoffs — for the first time in school history.
It’s the NYSPHSAA Class C Boys Lacrosse quarterfinals and the Indians will be facing perennial Section III powerhouse Jamesville-DeWitt, a team which has been ranked high in the New York State Sportswriters Association poll all season. With the exception of the May 6 poll, when they were ranked No. 5, the Red Rams (19-1) have been ranked No. 2 or No. 3. J-D is currently slated at No. 3 in this week’s poll.
While Owego is hoping to continue beyond their state debut, they know that regardless of Saturday’s outcome they have already accomplished something special.
“It means everything,” Owego head coach Andy Race said. “We’ve worked for this. This is the 21st year of the program, but this is the first that we’ve gotten this far, so it’s huge for us.”
Bringing Owego its first Section IV boys lacrosse championship is an accomplishment which is not being taken for granted by the players.
“It means a lot,” said senior Tyler Phelps, who has been playing lacrosse for seven years. “Being on varsity for three years, you get to see how much the seniors want it each year, and then to finally have that privilege my senior year and taking it this far, it’s more than just this team. It’ everybody in the past too.”
“It’s amazing. I didn’t think we would get this far and I’m super-psyched that we did,” said senior Jason Wood, a six-year player with two years of varsity experience. “I love the chance to be able to go out there and prove ourselves on something we’ve never done before.”
“I’ve been playing for nine or 10 years, basically as long as I can remember. It means a lot,” senior Connor Kinney, also in his third year with the varsity program, said of winning the elusive sectional championship. “Our sophomore year was a grind, but junior year was better, but to finally get there … I’ve been through a lot with this program and to finally end up on top means a lot to me.”
However special this season may be, Race is not ready for it to end this week.
“These guys have put in a ton of work and a ton of time and it’s paid off, so we’re going up there and we’re going to give it everything we’ve got, hoping to make a little run,” he stated. “We said yesterday, it’s a year of firsts for us so why not tomorrow too.”
More often than not, Section IV is written off as a one-and-done in the state tournament. In fact, only the 1990 Corning East team has ever won a state title. J-D has five to its credit, all at the Class B level with the most recent one coming in 2016.
That doesn’t seem to faze the Indian seniors, who expect their squad to battle for 48 minutes.
“I think it’s going to be a tough fight,” said Wood. “Like coach said, they’re really good opponents, probably some of the best we’ve seen, ever, but I think we match up well against them. I think if we do everything that we’re supposed to do it’s going to be a really good game.”
“They’re a really talented opponent, but I expect us to come out and compete and give them everything we’ve got, and if we do that we should be fine,” Kinney said.
“I know we’re going up to meet a really good opponent, but I don’t think they’re out of our league,” Phelps said. “I think we need to play as a team. I think it will be a close one and I think we can pull it out.”
“We’re going to face a strong opponent, there’s no doubt about it,” Race said. “They’ve got a good record. They’re battle-proven, but they haven’t seen us in the postseason yet, so we’re hoping to go up there and we’re hoping to outwork them. We think our match-ups are pretty good and we’re hoping that we can get up there and just play together as 24 guys.”
Teamwork will be the key if Owego hopes to advance past J-D.
“That’s kind of been our motto — 24 guys working as one — and we’re going to try to beat them from a team aspect,” Race said. “We’re going to use everybody that we’ve got and throw everything at them.”
In the postseason, the Rams bested highly-touted rival Christian Brothers Academy, 12-9, for the Section III title then disposed of Section X champ St. Lawrence, 15-2, in the first round of state play.
J-D’s offense averages 15.8 goals per game and wins by more than 10 goals per outing on average.
Junior Connor Durkin leads the Rams in scoring with 108 points (49 goals, 59 assists) while classmate Matt Kemmis has a team-high 58 goals (21 assists). Junior William Davis (42 goals, 33 assists) and sophomore Johnny Keib (33 goals, 20 assists) are key contributors as well.
Sophomore Goalie Jamison McLachlan has 132 saves while giving up 91 goals.
“We know that they’ve got a couple of strong offensive guys,” Race said. “Their defense is fast and aggressive, so we’re hoping that we can capitalize in the areas that we excel, and we’ll go up there and give them everything we’ve got.”
Owego (10-6) downed Johnson City, 14-11, to don the Section IV crown.
Kinney has led an offense that averages 12.2 goals per game. He has 38 goals and 55 assists. Luke Maslin has 32 goals and 30 assists, Cole Taylor has 31 goals and 12 assists, and Tyler Phelps has 28 goals and 14 assists. Ben Miller has scored 23 goals in 13 games, and Jo Race and Cooper Phelps have 14 goals apiece.
Zach Miner has made 141 saves and given up 131 goals.
Face-off begins at Corning-Painted Post High School at 3 p.m.
IN PHOTO 1: On Saturday, Owego will look to add to its first Section IV championship with its first state playoff win. … PHOTO COURTESY OF CATHY DOANE.
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