Nighthawks dominate Croatan in lacrosse state playoffs

Published 5:40 pm Tuesday, May 17, 2022

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First Flight soared to a 7 – 0 lead over visiting Croatan and never looked back, caging the Cougars 12 – 6 in the fourth round of the state 1A, 2A, 3A men’s lacrosse playoffs last Saturday in Kill Devil Hills.

The Nighthawks are scheduled to face off at Orange High School in Hillsborough during the state semi-finals Tuesday at 6 p.m.

This year has seen the ’Hawks set numerous records and their play last Saturday morning was solid. Coach John Van Lunen said his guys were ready to face Orange and had great momentum thanks to a super showing against conference foe Croatan.

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“In the past, we had only won one playoff game, so this is pretty serious,” he said. “In the first half again Croatan, we quickly found out we were a better team.

“We controlled the ball and scored goals,” he said. “Play got sloppy from time to time too.”

By halftime, First Flight had a commanding 7 – 1 lead and were able to score five more goals in the third period. Senior captain Nick Gardill had a smooth face dodge as he crashed into the middle for goal making it 8 – 1.

Heavy rains fell at times and the 160 or so spectators – including 30 from Croatan – thinned out as the game progressed. You could hear parents saying it was going to get “chippy.”

With a potent offense and strong defense, First Flight easily defeated Croatan completing a three-game sweep of the Cougars this season. The Cougars did get chippy at times, but the three-man officiating crew controlled the game effectively.

Coach Van Lunen said his guys are playing well and peaking at the right time of the year.

“We’ve got good momentum and that’s awesome,” he said.

Offensively, senior captain Nick Gardill averages four goals and game followed by junior captain Jacob Gray and senior crease man Jackson Kelly who average two goals a game each.

“Jacob Gray is on fire,” Sarah Summerton said and added that all the parents are thrilled about this season. She calls all the players “her babes!”

Gray did take it to the hole and score with confidence and expect to see more of him against Orange.

Defensively, Van Lunen said senior goalie Porter Smith had a nice match and kept the Cougars at bay.

“He’s just a super good kid – quiet,” the coach said. “He just keeps going to camps, keeps doing things right.”

From the press box, it was clear that this ’Hawks squad knows how to clear the ball successfully.

“The program has come a long way,” Van Lunen said. “We still practice catching and throwing, but it’s just not as difficult as it used to be.”

Another standout in Saturday’s match was junior close defenseman Cam Van Lunen who doesn’t sit back and let plays develop.

“He’s been playing really well,” Van Lunen said. “He wants to impose his will; he dictates to them.”

This type of dominance strengthens and helps the team’s defense click. Cam, John’s youngest son, has also earned a spot-on extra man offense, where he’s also stuck a couple goals.

“He understands help defense and has good vision,” coach said.

Cam gets a lot of help from senior captain long-stick midfielder Dylan “D.B.” Byard.

“Cam and D.B. create damage,” coach said.

D.B. had two goals against Croatan and at least one assist. It was fun to watch him take a long shot at an open goal that scored.

In general, the Nighthawks are ready rock and roll in the playoffs.

“We’ve got a good group of guys,” John said. “Getting them up for the playoffs is not going to be hard.”

Both teams appear patient on offense so the veteran coach thinks the Orange contest will be close.

“It should be an even match up,” he said. “It should be an exciting game.”

The winner of Tuesday’s Regional Championship match will face the winner of the Lake Norman Charter versus Bishop McGuiness in the state championship game later this week.