By Conor Walsh
---- — MANCHESTER — To anyone who’s taken in a game between Manchester Essex and Hamilton-Wenham — regardless of sport — it’s clear in a hurry that there’s no love lost between the two programs.
Maybe it’s the close proximity. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s two small schools. Whatever the reason may be, though, an emotional rivalry has built up over the years.
The passion, and animosity, that comes along with that type of rivalry shone through in the boys lacrosse meeting between the two teams yesterday at Hyland Field. The teams battled from the opening whistle, and the game’s fiery nature ultimately boiled over into some ugly scenes.
At the end of the day, it was the ugly stuff that helped decide the game as Hamilton-Wenham midfielder Christian Ecker (five goals) rattled off three man-advantage goals in the final 2:11 of the third quarter to put the Hornets away for good, and Hamilton-Wenham cruised to a 10-3 victory.
“Actually, it was what we were looking for for the better part of the game until the guys sort of lost their heads a little,” Hornets coach John McCavanagh said. “We were fighting hard and doing a lot of good things well, but they’re going to learn lessons as the season goes on on how to keep their composure.”
For the majority of the Hornets’ and Generals’ clash, the game was far more even than the lopsided final score would suggest. Manchester Essex kept it close through the first half, riding the strong play of junior goalie Alex Taliaferro to a manageable 4-1 halftime deficit against the traditionally strong Generals (3-1).
And when the game’s intensity started to ramp up in the third quarter, it looked as though the Hornets were feeding off the game’s chippiness. After a midfield skirmish that prompted the officials to send the teams to their respective benches to cool things down, the Hornets responded with two quick goals from Brian McAuliff and Ely Koufman to cut the Generals’ lead to 4-3.
From there, though, the Hornets lost their cool, and Hamilton-Wenham capitalized on the Hornets’ parade to the penalty box.
Ecker’s first goal of the game had come with the man-advantage midway through the second quarter, and as the Generals went a man up again in the third quarter, Ecker continued to prowl at the top of the Generals’ formation.
He proved lethal. Ecker beat Taliaferro three-straight times in a span of less than two minutes at the end of the third frame as the Hornets continued to find themselves a man-down, and what once looked like a potential comeback quickly faded into a blowout.
Ecker, freshman Griffin Webber (goal, three assists) and Parker Strong added goals in the fourth quarter to seal Manchester Essex’s fate.
“There’s a pretty heated rivalry between these two teams,” Generals coach Jim Laselva said. “It goes back to all sports, the small school nature. It’s a good rivalry but you don’t want to see some of the stuff like we saw erupt into mayhem, but it was nice to see our guys regain their composure a little bit. We want our kids fired up, but not like that.”
Early on, the game struggled to find much of a rhythm after Hamilton-Wenham jumped out to an early 2-0 lead behind two goals from J.D. Askwyth. Strong added a goal to extend the lead to three before Manchester Essex co-captain John Beardsley got the Hornets on the board with a goal shortly after.
The Hornets (0-2) proved they could play with the Generals for much of the game. Ultimately, though, it seems the rivalry between the two teams and the energy of an early-season contest got the best of Manchester Essex on Wednesday.
“There’s a lot of positives to take from this, but I just want to make sure that the positives start to outweigh the negatives, the self-inflicted negatives,” McCavanagh said. “I think learning a sense of composure will benefit them in the end. They saw what was possible today. They saw that it was possible to stay close with a good team and that if they hurt themselves, they’re not going to be able to stay with it in the long run.”