BEVERLY — Connor Cronin got hold of a loose ball in his end of the field and ran it up the right sideline in front of the Marblehead lacrosse bench Monday afternoon. Two opposing Beverly High players attempted to knock the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Magicians midfielder out of bounds; Instead, they bounced off of him and fell to the turf while Cronin continued his pursuit upfield.
Cronin, a physical specimen and outstanding athlete who will be playing college football at an Ivy League school or perhaps another institution such as Holy Cross or UMass Amherst beginning in the fall of 2023, is also a difference maker with a lacrosse stick in his hands. And on a day when his Magicians weren’t at their healthiest or played their best, he helped them remain unbeaten in Northeastern Conference play.
The junior had three goals and two assists while goaltender Finn Maniaci turned aside 10 shots as Marblehead staved off the host Panthers, 9-8, at Forti Field.
Winners of four straight, Marblehead — now 5-0 in NEC play and 6-2 overall — never trailed, but also could never put away the Orange-and-Black (4-4 overall, 3-4 NEC). Beverly remained within a goal or two for most of the contest and tied it late in the third quarter when DJ Bachini made a power rush along the right side and scored, making it 7-7.
But the Magicians — playing without scoring ace Josh Robertson (resting up an injury with two games later this week) — got a big goal from Xander Danforth to go ahead for good, then another from Cronin with a minute to go in the quarter. Beverly’s Gavin Lawrence notched his third of the day with about nine-and-a-half minutes to play, but neither team scored from there on out and the visitors held on for the win.
“Josh is the kind of player who opens up the field for everyone else, and without him we had some trouble,” Marblehead head coach John Wilkens said. “We fell out of our rhythm, and Beverly did a nice job staying in it. We let them hang around, hit a pair of posts and threw the ball away three times trying to clear it, but Beverly made us pay for the mistakes we made.
“I knew it was going to be difficult,” added Wilkens, whose team beat the Panthers 15-4 earlier this month. “I knew they were much improved, so I wasn’t surprised they played us as tough as they did.”
Up a goal with under two minutes to play, Marblehead stopped three different Beverly scoring attempts, with defenseman Eliot Puss and Sam Annese each making big plays over the final 35 seconds. Maniaci had his best stop with 3:45 to play, denying the Panthers’ Troy Morin alone out front with a stick save.
Moral victories usually don’t mean much, but Beverly coach Matt Riordan told his players postgame to be proud of the effort they put in.
“We lost by 11 to them less than three weeks ago, so you can see the improvement,” said Riordan. “There’s no such thing as a good loss, but we really can’t hang our heads after this one, either. Our guys never quit and fought every step of the way.”
Carter Laramie and Cole Gallup each had two goals for Marblehead while Tucker Lubeck also scored and Charlie Grenier had an assist. Baxter Jennings did the majority of his damage in the faceoff circle in the opening half as Marblehead won nine of the game’s first 12 draws.
“We were up 4-1 (late in the first quarter) and then it flipped; that’s lacrosse sometimes,” said Wilkens, whose team will face arch rival Swampscott Wednesday.
Beverly captain Jaxon Thomas had a stellar game defensively; he knocked both the ball and stick out of Laramie’s hands in the first quarter, scooped the ground ball and raced upfield before scoring on a rip.
James Silva, who was dealing with a wonky non-faceoff stick in the first half, righted the ship and captured six of nine second half draws for the Panthers. Will ten Hope, Cam Cook (2 assists), Matt Mezza and Bachini also scored for the home team, with Colby Vaccaro stopping a dozen shots in net.
The Panthers are back home Thursday when they host Salem (4:45 pm).