WEDDINGTON – For the third straight season, the Weddington boys lacrosse team will play in the NCHSAA 1A/2A/3A championship game. This team is hoping to finish what they started.
Seniors Eamon Murphy, Whitner Litton and James Shipley started playing varsity together four seasons ago. That year, they lost in the second round of the playoffs to Marvin Ridge, who at that time was the top dog in county lacrosse.
Fast forward three seasons and the Warriors have more than turned the tides. They’ve become the preeminent program in the state by winning two straight titles.
On May 14, the Warriors had to take out conference rival Marvin Ridge in the Western Regional final for a chance to defend their title.
Litton, Shipley and Murphy would play a huge role in the 9-8 win, but it wouldn’t be as easy as Weddington’s 18-11 win over the Mavs back in early April.
The Mavs started out with control of the game and raced out to a 2-0 lead after senior Seth Arrison found the back of the net.
But after a double penalty left the Mavs two men down for one minute on the clock, the Warriors pounced.
First it was sophomore Will Shipley off an assist from his brother, James. Just over a minute later, James Shipley scored to tie the game at 2. Twenty-five seconds later, Colby Barz scored to give the Warriors a 3-2 lead they’d never relinquish although the game would get quite exciting down the stretch.
“It was a wild game,” Weddington coach Britton Short said. “All the credit to (the Mavs) because they fought their butts off and played a hell of a game. I’m proud of our guys. We got down early but we were able to bounce back. It was fun.”
Ryan Goldstein scored the only second quarter goal to give Weddington a 4-3 lead after Marvin had tied the score at 3 just before the first quarter ended.
Murphy scored twice to give the Warriors leads of 5-3 and 6-4 in the third quarter, but the Mavs wouldn’t go away.
When Emmett Houlihan scored one of his two goals early in the fourth quarter, the Mavs tied the score again at 6.
But Weddington’s experience would win out. After Will Shipley, Anthony Todaro and Goldstein scored in succession, the score was 9-6 with 4:47 to go and seemed to be over.
Marvin Ridge scored with 2:06 to play and then again at 1:33 to cut the lead to 9-8.
Even worse, James Shipley was called for an illegal stick with 0:33 seconds to play, sending him to the sidelines and giving the Mavs the ball up a man.
But Weddington goalkeeper Andrew Miller made a magnificent save late and the Warriors held on to win.
“Andrew has been top notch for us all year long. He never wavers out there for us,” Short said. “My guys stood tall in the face of adversity and I’m really proud of them. Especially so there in the last 30 seconds or so.
“This has been wild. It’s been a crazy year. We’ve faced probably one of the hardest schedules, and I’ve worked hard to get that. We’ve played a little bit less games, but the competition has been really, really hard. We have some good kids and they answered it tonight and showed up.”
And, like usual, it came down to the seniors.
James Shipley had a goal and four assists. Murphy scored twice and added an assist. Goldstein scored twice. Litton won 10 of 18 faceoffs and had three ground balls.
Throw in Will Shipley’s two goals and three ground balls and the Warriors offense is as good and as diverse as anyone’s.
“We have so many different options, so if someone isn’t having a day or if there is a choke down, then we can go somewhere else,” Murphy said. “Everyone on our offense would be a top guy on any other team, and I think the way our defense is playing right now we’re playing with each other and make some big plays.”
And that could make a difference in the May 18 title game.
“We’ve got one goal on our minds, and it’s to finish the season out,” Short said. “I think these seniors would die before they let anyone take this from them. We need to come out and play solid for all four quarters. It’s going to be someone new this year, so we’re going to come out and fire on all four cylinders and play better than we did today. I’m sure the team will come out fired up and be ready to go.”