Despite entering the Southwest Prep Conference playoffs this weekend as the #1 seed from the SPC North Division, the defending champion St. Mark’s Lions were handed every excuse they could need to rationalize a possible loss this weekend. In the last seven days, they had learned that three more key starters were lost for the season, and senior middie and face-off specialist Nick Mahowald had been ruled ineligible due to a concussion sustained against Allen on Monday night.
Coach Hayward Lee knew that a Lions’ victory against SPC South Division #1 Seed St. John’s School could only be achieved through an extraordinary team effort and significant contributions from the 17 underclassmen on his roster. Despite being pleased with the 9-5 defeat of Episcopal School of Houston in the semi-finals, Coach Lee knew that the championship matchup against a mature and peaking St. John’s team with 18 upperclassmen would test the mettle of his youthful Marksmen squad now led by only four active seniors.
Advancing to the weekend with an 11-1 record against THSLL opponents, St. John’s gained its first SPC championship berth in 5 years by defeating Episcopal School of Dallas 10-9 on Friday night. Coach Sam Chambers, winless in his last four games against St. Mark’s including three straight SPC championship game losses from 2005-07, personally set out on a roadtrip to Dallas last weekend to thoroughly scout both ESD and St. Mark’s. Chambers and his Maverick’s squad sensed the Lions’ vulnerability and were now within one win of their first ever SPC crown.
The Lions responded with one of their most disciplined efforts of the season, methodically dismantling the Mavericks to win their 8th SPC Championship in the last 9 years. St. John’s established the pace of the game early with excellent ball control and patience in the offensive zone, but were unable to solve a Lions’ defense led by captains Amir Saboorian and Bear Goldstein who refused to surrender any quality looks. St. Mark’s short sticks created intense pressure between the goals and junior middies Danny Koudelka and Evan Chang-Tung dominated play at both ends and in transition – executing clears with great vision and speed; locking off potential dodgers with tenacious 1-on-1 defense; and, combining for five points on the scoreboard (3G, 2A). Junior goalie Chris Roach saw 18 shots before surrendering his first goal with only 2:54 left in the first half. Unfortunately for the Mavericks, by then the Lions had already strung together five unanswered goals and built a 5-1 half-time lead on scoring from junior middie Chang-Tung, junior attack Andrew Graffy, senior middie Griffin Cassagne, and two tallies from senior middie Peter Addy.
After three quarters of play, St. Mark’s had built a decisive 8-1 lead on two more goals from junior middie Koudelka and a 15-yard capper by senior captain Will Perkins. Junior attack Andrew Graffy would contribute his second goal from 12 yards out to seal the game in the 4th quarter. Throughout the contest, the Lions overcame the loss of their two face off specialists with gutsy play from junior Lendon Hall and freshman Michael Fletcher. Although the Mavs enjoyed a considerable advantage at the X, Hall and Fletcher battled so furiously that St. John’s was unable to generate much momentum from possession and struggled to advance the ball quickly into the offensive zone. The Mavericks did gamely post four goals in the last quarter after Coach Lee emptied his bench and replaced Roach in the pipes – but by then the game had long been decided. Final score: St. Mark’s Lions 9, St. John’s Mavericks 5.
For the two-day SPC tournament, the Lions showed balance scoring from ten different players, including: senior attack Will Perkins (4G, 3A), junior middie Evan Chang-Tung (3G, 3A, 9GB), junior middie Danny Koudelka (4G, 6GB), junior attack Andrew Graffy (3G, 4GB), senior middie Peter Addy (2G), senior middie Griffin Cassagne (1G, 1A), freshman attack Jack Fojtasek (2A), 9GB), sophomore attack Mike Murphy (1G), sophomore middie Kellam Hall (1A, 4GB), and freshman middie Michael Fletcher (1A, 4GB). Junior goalie Chris Roach recorded 22 saves while surrendering only 7 goals in 7 quarters of play, stopping 76% of shots on the cage. Senior defenseman Amir Saboorian and junior defenseman Bear Goldstein combined for 12 takeaways and 10 GBs.
For St. John’s, junior attack David Edwards (2G), senior attack Douglas Berkman (1G, 1A), junior middie William Griffin (1G), and junior Ben Griffin (1G) accounted for all scoring. Senior goalie Nathan Whittle contributed 7 saves in a losing effort.
Both teams now focus on looming THSLL district rivalries this week. On Tuesday, the Mavericks (12-4) will take on Houston Christian (13-3) in a game that will cause a reshuffling in South District playoff scenarios. On Thursday night, the Lions (14-2) will battle Dallas Jesuit (13-1) for the North District #1 seed.