Benilde-St. Margaret's junior Josh Werkmeister fires a shot at Blake goaltender Cade Gleekel. Photo by Loren Nelson
Blake and Benilde-St. Margaret’s once were state lacrosse behemoths.
Benilde-St. Margaret’s won titles in 2007, 2010 and 2011. Blake won the 2008 championship and, back before the state tournament was sponsored by the Minnesota State High School League, captured Minnesota Boys Scholastic Lacrosse Association titles in 2005 and 2006.
For these programs, state championships were the cherry on top of undefeated seasons.
When the teams played, bleachers shook, tempers flared and high drama ensued. The private schools are five miles apart, but the programs were inseparable. Turns out, they still are.
“Every time we come out here, it’s a battle,” Blake sophomore Gus Austin said. “And every time we lose we just look forward to playing them again because we know we are going to get another shot at them.
“And if we win it’s the greatest feeling in the world.”
As Austin spoke his all-smiles teammates were lining up behind him, preparing to march through a jubilant cheering section on their way to the team bus. The Bears had just defeated the Red Knights 8-7 on Thursday, May 30, in the Section 6 semifinals.
“It’s Benilde-Blake,” said first-year Blake coach Frank Clark. “It’s what, a couple miles separated? Yeah, you embrace the challenge and you enjoy it.”
Blake coach Frank Clark. Photo by Loren Nelson
Clark isn’t a newbie to the state high school lacrosse scene. He is a former Benilde-St. Margaret’s coach who spent the last nine years helping build the ultra successful University of Minnesota-Duluth program. Several players he coached at UMD are now members of the Red Knights’ staff, adding another layer of intrigue to the resumption of the rivalry.
Last season, for the first time in a long time, Blake and Benilde-St. Margaret’s did not meet in the section playoffs. Benilde-St. Margaret’s was knocked out in the Section 5 semifinals by Edina, the same team that beat Blake in the section title game.
“Last year we were bummed we didn’t get them in the playoffs,” Blake senior Ned Hartfiel said about playing the Red Knights. “It is everyone’s dream on this team to beat them in sections.”
The balance of state lacrosse power shifted south last season to Eastview, which won its first state title. This season it seemingly has moved west to Eden Prairie, where the Eagles are undefeated and top ranked.
On Thursday both the Bears and Red Knights looked to have regained their championship form in a fast-paced game filled with crisp passing, in-your-face defense and imaginative offensive sets.
“I just think the way our offense flows now, and the way our defense plays is so much better,” Austin said. “We didn’t get that much time outside (early in the season). Once we finally just got outside and started figuring it all out, it came to us.”
Blake lost four of its first seven games, then beat Orono 10-9 in overtime on Wednesday, May 8, to start a four-game win streak that included an eye-opening 13-11 victory over Eastview on May 18.
“We had a lot of ups and downs through the season,” Hartfiel said. “I would say our turnaround was the Orono game.”
Now the No. 3-seeded Bears are headed to the section final, where they will meet No. 4 Holy Angels, an upset winner on Thursday over No. 1 St. Thomas Academy.
-- Loren Nelson
Blake players converge on goaltender Cade Gleekel after beating Benidle-St. Margaret's on Thursday night. Photo by Loren Nelson
Sophomore Gus Austin scored twice, and senior Ned Hartfiel scored the game-winner late in the fourth quarter as No. 3-seeded Blake held on for an 8-7 upset over No. 2-seeded Benilde-St. Margaret's in a Section 6 semifinal on Thursday, May 30, at Benilde-St. Margaret's High School in St. Louis Park.
Hartfiel caught the ball up top, dodged around Robbie Lance and fired a shot past defenseman Garrett Haughey to score, putting the Bears up 8-6 with about 5 minutes remaining.
The Red Knights (9-5) rallied with a goal by Lance, who found an opening to the left of Blake goaltender Cade Gleekel. Benilde-St. Margaret's had several possessions in the closing minutes but couldn't get a quality scoring attempt.
Blake (9-5) will move on to play No. 4-seeded Holy Angels in the section final on Tuesday, June 4, at the Edina Community Center. Holy Angels upset No. 1-seeded St. Thomas Academy 15-14 in their semifinal matchup.
Blake scoring leaders Grant Oie and Quinn Ellis got the Bears off to quick start. Ellis opened the scoring on an assist from Oie, who scored just 2 minutes later giving Blake a 2-0 lead.
Three unanswered Red Knights goals would follow, but Blake's Christopher Chute scored late and the opening quarter ended in a 3-3 tie.
Chris Hickok scored with 8 seconds left in the first half to give Benilde-St. Margaret's a 5-4 lead.
Josh Werkmeister scored his second goal just 35 seconds into the third quarter to put the Red Knights ahead 6-4. He also added two assists.
Austin and Oie followed Werkmeister with goals of their own, tying the game at 6-6 entering the final quarter. Bryan Kennedy scored early in the fourth giving the Bears their first lead since the opening minutes of the first quarter.
-- Trevor Squire
Blake sophomore Gus Austin, left. Photo by Loren Nelson
1. Gus Austin, Blake
This sophomore has serious skills, as evidenced by his clutch scoring against the Red Knights. Austin, who scored 17 goals during the regular season – including two four-goal games – certainly wasn’t phased by the magnitude of the moment. He scored in the second and third quarters, helping Blake forge a 6-6 tie entering the fourth.
2. Ned Hartfiel, Blake
A senior midfielder, Hartfiel wasn’t a big scorer during the regular season (7 goals, 2 assists). It was unlikely, then, that he would score the what proved to be the game winner in the fourth quarter, but there he was, deftly maneuvering his way past Red Knights defenders before unloading the biggest shot of his career.
-- Loren Nelson