Roswell boys’ title defense begins with chance to win area

Roswell Hornets senior long stick midfielder Ben Gotham. (Photo by Tia Henry)

Credit: Tia Henry

Credit: Tia Henry

Roswell Hornets senior long stick midfielder Ben Gotham. (Photo by Tia Henry)

On Thursday, Class 5A-6A’s top-ranked Roswell Hornets close the regular season with a banger, at No. 6 Blessed Trinity in a game that will decide Area 5. The winner takes the No. 1 seed and home field advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs, and the Hornets will look to achieve the second back-to-back state championship run in program history.

The Hornets (15-2, 4-0 Area 5) and Titans (12-5, 4-0) face off at 7 p.m. in Roswell, with the rivals’ campuses just a mile apart. The game, which pits public versus private schools, is dubbed the “Woodstock Road Cup.” The Hornets have won it the last two seasons.

“This is a huge rivalry,” fourth-year Hornets coach Bryan Wallace said. “And it’s a huge game. It’s always important to get the No. 1 seed, because not only does it guarantee home field advantage, but you set yourself up by picking the day and time of your games. I expect Blessed Trinity’s best effort. It’s a home game for them, and the area championship is on the line. We’ve done our homework, and our due diligence, and we have a game plan.”

The Hornets will also be prepared. Of their 17 games, a staggering 12 were against ranked opponents, and they’re 10-2 in those games. They opened the season with a 14-13 overtime win over 7A’s Lambert, currently No. 2. They followed that with a 13-5 win over No. 3 Allatoona, the team they beat last year in the state championship. In addition to beating No. 7 Cambridge and No. 8 GAC in cross-area games, they beat A-4A’s No. 8 Wesleyan.

They were 4-0 against ranked out-of-state teams, beating Lucy Beckham, No. 1 overall in South Carolina in the MaxPreps computer rankings, North Carolina’s No. 2 overall Cannon and Lake Norman, ranked No. 2 in South Carolina’s A-3A. They beat Ponte Vedra, No. 6 overall in Florida. All four opponents were, like Roswell, defending state champions.

Their only losses were back-to-back, against 7A’s No. 1 North Paulding (8-7) and No. 4 Walton (12-5) in mid-March. Just before the skid, senior attack Luke Hicks, a Salisbury commit, broke his hand.

The Hornets are 5-0 since the skid.

“We’re not afraid of anyone,” Wallace said. “North Paulding got the best of us, and Walton has had our number the last few years. We played solid defense with Luke missing, and we dominated in the cage, but we let it slip away. It was a two-game slide in three days, but we figured it out and dominated the best teams in North Carolina. So, it was two blips on the radar, and it didn’t affect what we do in our classification, where we’re undefeated and have dominated.”

The Hornets have a number of high-scoring attackers, led by USA Lacrosse All American and Bellarmine signee Ezra Moore, a senior who has 64 goals and 26 assists. Freshman Linkin Miller has 32 goals and 11 assists, followed by sophomore Kaden Parla (30 goals, 11 assists) and Hicks (29 goals, 11 assists). The midfield is led by senior and Lenoir-Rhyne signee Kyle O’Neil (21 goals, 15 assists, 66% face-offs) and his brother, freshman Blake O’Neil (22 goals, seven assists, 57% face-offs), and junior Ben Weir (26 goals and 12 assists).

Seniors Austin Elder (12 goals, four assists, 68 ground balls) and Wesley Austin (11 goals, seven assists, 57 ground balls, 12 caused turnovers) play critical roles as defensive-midfielders. The defense is anchored by senior Carter Dowdy, a senior captain and Lenor-Rhyne signee, who has 60 ground balls and 29 caused turnovers, followed by Dean Maddux (29 ground balls, 17 turnovers), and long-stick senior midfielder Ben Gotham (50 ground balls and 18 caused turnovers).

At goal, the Hornets use the senior tandem of Rhodes signee Blake Jeska (64% saves) and Luca Orelli (68%), a first team all-state selection and Lynchburg signee who transferred in from Blessed Trinity.

“Our philosophy is team first,” Wallace said. “We have a lot of great players, but we all need to execute on the defensive end. The goal is to play fast and aggressive for 48 minutes, and put as much pressure on the opponent as possible. We want to share the ball, limit unforced errors, play within the system and take advantage of the opportunity in front of us.”

The Hornets won 6A in 2014 and 2015 and want to match that repeat success this year.

“The potential here is massive,” Wallace said. “We can only control what we can, and the playoffs are starting to line up. I haven’t paid too much attention to how the brackets are shaping, but we’re getting hot at the right time. Hopefully we get those two home playoff games guaranteed. The plan is to be playing at Denmark on May 11th (the place and time of the state championship game), and we’ll take the steps to make that happen.”