Three Lowcountry lacrosse teams playing for state titles

Bishop England players swarm toward coach Jeff Weiner after defeating Wando in the Lower State girls championship on Tuesday. The Bishops will play Nation Ford in the state final Saturday.

Three high school lacrosse teams from the Lowcountry are playing for the biggest prize Saturday as the SCHSL and SCISA state championships will be decided at two venues.

The Porter-Gaud and Wando boys teams are seeking repeat championships, while the Bishop England girls are trying to win its first state title in lacrosse.

Porter-Gaud will host Hammond in the SCISA championship game at noon on Saturday. The final is a rematch of last year’s championship game, won by Porter-Gaud. The two teams met twice during the regular season with the Cyclones winning both — 9-8 and 11-10.

Cyclones coach David Scully lost 11 seniors from last year’s team, which won the first state title in school history. Getting back to the final with a much younger and less experienced team is somewhat of a surprise.

“It’s been amazing what this group of boys have accomplished after graduating 11 players from last year and having no seniors on the team,” Scully said. “Every player on the roster has put in long hours of hard work and as coaches we see how they’re all striving to get better each day in practice — the boys are buying in to their success.

“In this last half of the season they’ve started to learn the importance of playing as a team as the key component to us winning games.”

Porter-Gaud has been balanced offensively this spring. Sophomores Reid Marion and Graham Kaplan, and junior Andrew Jones all have scored at least 20 goals. Freshman Kevin Marshall has 15 goals and a team-high 17 assists. Freshman goalie Christian Steichen has posted 79 saves while allowing 64 goals.

Bishop England’s title chase begins at 11 a.m. on Saturday at Chapin High School. The top-ranked Bishops (15-1) take on Upper State champion and second-ranked Nation Ford (14-2) in the final. Nation Ford knocked off three-time defending state champion J.L. Mann in the Upper State championship on Tuesday.

Bishop England is led by a pair of high-scoring sophomores — Emma Pizzo and Ellie Long. Pizzo has racked up 97 goals and 57 assists this spring while Long has 51 goals and 18 assists.

Senior Rachel Banton and freshman Morgan Roberts have combined for 71 goals in a balanced offensive attack. But the Bishops rely heavily on defense as well. Only once this season has an opponent scored double figures in goals, that coming in the team’s lone loss, 24-14, to Charlotte Christian.

Nation Ford, however, is ranked second (behind Bishop England) in scoring this season, averaging better than 15 goals per game. Junior Samantha McNeil has scored 52 goals and seniors Alexis Walker and Rachel Denney have combined for 87 goals.

“It will take us playing our best on both ends of the field on Saturday, regardless of who we play,” coach Jeff Weiner said. “You know when you get to this point, the opponent is going to be very good. We are looking forward to a great challenge.”

Saturday is Bishop England’s third appearance in the final, having lost to J.L. Mann in 2013 and last season.

Wando’s boys will face a familiar foe — Fort Mill — in the state final at 1:30 p.m. The two powerhouses are meeting in the championship for the fourth consecutive year. Wando has won three of the last four state titles, including last year. Fort Mill beat Wando in the 2014 final.

Wando beat Fort Mill, 15-5, in an early regular season meeting and coach Lance Renes has the game plan for a victory on Saturday.

“They are very patient offensively and really like to slow the game down and make it a low-scoring game,” Renes said. “We are very much up-tempo. It’s important for us to get an early lead and make them play catchup. That’s sort of been the way we’ve been successful with them in recent games.”

Wando (17-2) has great offensive balance, led by junior Sam Weis (57 goals), junior Ryan Lipsky (49 goals) and senior Zach Bauer (32 goals). Sophomore Riley Seay and junior Jack Davies also have more than 20 goals.

Senior Thomas Gribben is a defensive anchor and goalie David Gottesman has recorded 128 saves. Wando has outscored its opponents, 285-98, this season.