In last season's state quarterfinals, the Wando Warriors notched a 10-9 comeback victory over the Fort Mill Yellow Jackets en route to their fourth consecutive state championship game. But Wednesday night, the No. 1-seeded Yellow Jackets wouldn't be denied, earning a 9-7 redemptive win over the Warriors after an explosive third quarter.
Fort Mill advances to the state championship game at White Knoll High School at 2:30 p.m. Saturday against Greenville, which has won the past four state lacrosse championships.
"It's all on these kids and the effort they've put in to get to this point," said Fort Mill coach Jim Van Blarcom. "The coaching staff just runs up and down the sidelines. My players deserve all the credit for this win today."
"Redemption is the one word that comes to mind to describe this win tonight," said Fort Mill senior attacker and team captain Parker Thomas, who had a hat trick in the semifinal victory.
"It's a huge relief to finally get over the hump in my senior season."
Mirroring the game between the two teams from last season, Fort Mill had to mount a comeback to overcome a Wando squad that maintained a narrow lead for the majority of the game.
In the first quarter, the Warrior tandem of Stephen Smilak and Davis Wray accounted for three goals while Fort Mill struggled to find its offensive rhythm. Both Smilak and Wray finished the game with three scores apiece, accounting for six of Wando's seven goals. The first quarter ended with Wando up 3-1 over the Yellow Jackets.
However, Fort Mill stayed in the game by capitalizing on Wando 2nd quarter penalties. On two occasions, Wando found itself a man down on the field, and each time the Yellow Jackets took advantage, including a snipe from junior attacker Connor Crutchfield that tied the game at 4-4 with 5:30 left in the quarter.
But Wray would make his presence felt again, scoring a go-ahead goal that gave Wando the 5-4 lead heading into halftime.
The third quarter began tentatively for both teams, with the first score not being recorded until the seven minute mark, a game-tying goal by Fort Mill's Thomas after eluding multiple defenders. Wando's Smilak responded with a goal of his own to regain the 6-5 advantage with three minutes left in the quarter, but soon after the Yellow Jackets' offense ignited. Fort Mill scored three goals in under two minutes to give the Yellow Jackets an 8-6 lead heading into the fourth quarter, its first lead of the game.
It was an explosive output from which Wando would never recover.
The Warriors managed only two second half goals as the Yellow Jackets' defense, led by junior goalkeeper D.J. Quill, forced Wando into numerous forced shots and errant passes. And as the final seconds ticked down, the Warriors could only watch as the Fort Mill players and coaches stormed the field to celebrate the victory.
After the game, Wando first year head coach Lance Renes expressed pride in his team's season performance, while also remaining optimistic for the Warriors' future (25 of the 34 players on the roster are underclassmen).
"I couldn't be happier with the effort and heart I've seen from this team in my first season as coach," Renes said. "We have a lot of returning players and a great youth program, so we'll learn from this loss and bounce back next year."
But the night belonged to Fort Mill, and now the Yellow Jackets are one win away from ending their 14-2 season with a state championship.