By Tris Wykes

HANOVER – Hanover High’s boys lacrosse players mobbed their goaltender with extra zeal Monday, and not only because the hosts had just beaten Kennett, 8-5, in an NHIAA Division II first-round playoff game at Merriman-Branch Field.

No, the Marauders knew that freshman Devon Pleger, new to the position and starting his first high school contest, had stared down a situation that would have buckled many of his peers’ knees. The rookie stopped only four shots, but a couple were dangerous and he didn’t falter while making a pressure-packed debut.

Hanover High freshman goaltender Devon Pleger made his varsity debut a memorable one. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

“It was a bit daunting going into the game with a freshman goalie,” said defenseman Noah Bradley, whose 5-6 team visits Bow on Wednesday. “We had to pick him up and that made up play harder on defense. The kid had a helluva game for never having gotten into a single varsity game.”

A midfielder at season’s start, Pleger volunteered to become the varsity’s backup netminder after three weeks and received barely 24 hours’ notice that he’d be in action Monday. Hanover coach Ryan Gardner said senior starter Danny Pitiger missed Sunday morning’s practice because of side effects from a Covid-19 vaccine shot and didn’t follow proper procedure in explaining his absence. 

After consulting his squad’s captains, Gardner started Pleger, whose previous goaltending experience consisted of a stint during fifth grade. The Marauders (5-6) snapped a four-game losing streak and won a playoff contest for the first time since 2014.

“The team wanted to protect a young goalie who I don’t think had ever started a lacrosse game there before,” the coach said, crediting Hanover assistant Michael Sternberg with developing Pleger and fellow backup Luka Cantone. Gardner said he hasn’t decided which goaltender will start Wednesday.

Hanover High’s Angus Frew absorbs a check from Kennett’s Dylan Patel. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

A 1-1 tie after the first quarter gave way to a 4-1 Hanover lead at intermission, but the Eagles pulled to within 6-4 after three periods. Bradley, toting the ball atop his 6-foot pole, sprinted upfield and scored to give his team a 7-4 advantage midway through the fourth quarter. Kennett (2-10) answered in less than a minute, but Seamus Murphy’s tally 1 minute, 23 seconds later closed the scoring.

“Kennett had a long bus ride and we jumped them from the start,” Bradley said. “The transition game is where we won the game with kids like Brendan Logan, Jack Gardner, Jon Hurd and myself pushing the ball upfield and getting it to the offense. It was like, yeah, this is how we roll.”

Gardner was happy to see his team respond positively after the Eagles’ advance. Several times this season, Hanover has been unable to answer an opponent’s rally and lost games because of that deficiency.

“Today, we withstood it and went and scored one or two more goals,” Gardner said. “We really controlled the midfield and the ground-ball game, with Brendan Logan and Jack Gardner doing a wonderful job.”

Hanover High’s Teddy Ruth bends towards Kennett’s Robbie Murphy after striking him in the throat with his stick. No penalty was called and Murphy returned to action. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

The offense wasn’t shabby, either. Midfielders Murphy and Brett Simmons each had two goals and attackmen Jack Badams, Angus Frew and Noah Fahey each struck once. Badams and Fahey also contributed two assists apiece and Gardner and Logan each had one. 

Like Hanover, Bow is 5-6. The winner of the teams’ Wednesday’s game will face the winner of a same-day contest between Kingswood (12-0) and Merrimack Valley (3-9) in a Saturday quarterfinal.

Notes: Hanover won 16 of 22 faceoffs and captured the ground-ball battle, 54-25… Logan scooped up 11 ground balls… The Marauders cleared their end 13 times in 19 chances… Noah Bradley, who’s headed to Florida Atlantic University to study finance, is the son of 1988 Hanover graduate Chris Bradley, who played soccer and ice hockey for the Marauders. Noah Bradley’s paternal grandfather, David, was a quarterback at Dartmouth College during the 1950s… Hanover was penalized earlier this season for not having a midfield stripe that extended through the Marauder head logo. There is now a painted, blue line across most of the logo, allowing the referees to more easily enforce faceoff violations.. Kennett committed five of the game’s seven penalties, a fact Eagles coach Steve Graustein said was a major cause of his team’s loss… Former Hanover football and boys lacrosse coach Herb Hatch was one of the game’s referees. He recalled that he rode the officials hard during his time on the sidelines and upon moving over to “the dark side” seven years ago, he received amazed stares upon entering his first preseason meeting with the state’s assembled zebras.

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Hanover High’s Angus Frew, left, moves around Kennett goaltender Kyle Stearns and fellow Marauder Jack Badams (8). Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.