Back At Last: Albemarle edges Patrick Henry to clinch state tournament berth

Photo by Bart Isley

What Albemarle boys lacrosse’s Alec Kelly endured with under five minutes to play was a microcosm of the Patriots’ experience as a team.


Kelly got bounced around and stepped on in front of the cage after an attempted shot, then took a slash to the helmet, all in quick succession. On the extra-man opportunity following the slash, Kelly looped around from behind the cage took a feed and buried the go-ahead goal with 3:38 to play.  


“After I got hit, I had a big fireball of anger growing inside of me and I’m like ‘I’m taking this out on them’,” Kelly said.


He took Patrick Henry’s defense’s best shot and he got back up — just like Albemarle took Patrick Henry’s collective best shot during a five-goal run in the third quarter and got back up, clinching a state tournament berth with an 8-7 victory. It’s the first time the Patriots have advanced to the state tournament since winning the whole thing back in 2014.


“They knocked us out last year and we came back and beat them in overtime at the beginning of this year,” said Albemarle keeper Matthew Willis. “A lot of our seniors haven’t been to states so this is big for us.”


Forrest Warner’s lone goal of the game — Kelly and Andrew Scanlon did the heavy offensive lifting with three goals each — came with 2:05 to play. Warner drove hard to his right from the cage, before hitting a hard stop near the crease, reversing field and wrapping around for a low shot that slipped in. After a defensive stand, it stood as the game-winner.


“Someone had to take it to the goal and after the first dodge (the coaches) said to give it back to me,” Warner said. “I ran with my heart and was able to get to the goal.”


Willis made seven saves, including a critical one with under a minute to play. Like Kelly, he had to bounce back quickly. With under two minutes to play, he stuffed a Patrick Henry shot only to watch the hard rebound land in a Patrick Henry player’s stick and slide past him.


“You’ve got to move on to the next play, you can’t let that stop you or hold you back,” Willis said. “Our defense held out at the end and came up with it.”


That stop opened the door for Albemarle to call a timeout and on the ensuing clear, get the ball in Scanlon’s hands. Scanlon took off upfield and milked 20 seconds off the clock, sealing the victory and the Albemarle senior class’ first career state tournament appearance.


“We put the ball in his stick to run around,” said Albemarle coach Dave King. “He looked great and he wants the ball in crunch time, he just did his job.”


Albemarle led the game 5-1 at the break, but King told his squad at halftime that a run was almost surely coming. The run was even better than advertised, with Patrick Henry reeling off five straight with a series of faceoff wins from Dixon Harris that ended up giving them a 12-7 advantage on the draw for the game. Kenyon John finished with a hat trick for Patrick Henry and Cade and Jaime Smith each had two goals.


Things settled down in the fourth quarter though after that surge as Albemarle started controlling the clock and drew some critical penalties.


“That’s been our character all year — it’s a great group of kids,” King said. “Most talented or not, I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter. It’s a team sport, they play together and they stuck with it.”


Timmy Myers had a goal and an assist while Cooper Cramer had a pair of assists. Albemarle held a slight edge on ground balls, 29-24. Albemarle now gets a shot to play for a state championship.


“One goal was all we needed to change the momentum and turn it around and pull out the win,” Kelly said.