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Lacrosse: Pinecrest boys smash Dacula in preparation for first playoff trip
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Pinecrest Academy's David Stubbs takes a shot on goal during the Paladins' game against Dacula on April 26, 2019 at Pinecrest Academy. - photo by Ben Hendren

When Steve Jameson took the Pinecrest boys lacrosse head coaching job earlier this year, he immediately noticed something that irked him a bit.

As he walked around campus, he saw constant reminders of the shortcomings of his new team, or rather, the lack of them. The school's other sports had a myriad banners and signs that commemorated their postseason accomplishments. But there were no such items for Jameson's squad.

“Everybody kind of seemed to have a banner or had something,” Jameson said. “We didn’t. That was one of the things that kind of bothered me. I talked to the guys about it, and found out pretty quickly that it bothered them, too.”

While the Paladins won’t be getting a banner for a region title this year, they’ll finally have a chance to have some recognition of their own next to a brand-new turf field next season. The Paladins clinched their first-ever playoff spot on Tuesday against Denmark, and on Friday, they took a 20-3 tune-up win over Dacula that Pinecrest hopes can prepare them for an upcoming playoff run.

“We wanted to finish our regular season strong, get everything worked out and get our gears cranking, and not just mail it in for the last couple of games,” Jameson said.

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Pinecrest Academy's Ryan DiFazio takes a shot on goal during the Paladins' game against Dacula on April 26, 2019 at Pinecrest Academy. - photo by Ben Hendren
Pinecrest wasted no time on Thursday, jumping out to a 5-0 lead with three minutes to go in the first quarter. Dacula scored its only goal of the first half with 2:13 left until halftime. It was Pinecrest goalkeeper Drew Hendren’s only blemish against the Falcons, and he feels like he’s gotten even better after an All-County junior year.

“I kind of felt myself improve over they year, just working on my game over the summer, working out a little bit,” Hendren said. “(I'm) mainly trying to feel good about myself, a little more calm in goal.”

He was quite calm for the rest of the time he was in, due in part to the amount of points the Paladins were able to put up. At halftime, Pinecrest held a 15-1 lead, and in the second half, the JV players took over. Ryan DiFazio led the way for the Paladins in the first half: With 4:16 left until halftime, he scored from behind the back from the right side of the net for his fourth and final score of the day.

“I've just always been told by the coach that if you're decreasing your angle, it's always in your artillery to use,” he said. “It just felt like a good time to use it.”

DiFazio was hardly the only weapon the Paladins utilized. Eli Karaki broke out with three, while midfielders David Stubbs and Hogan Palmer had three and two, respectively. All of those seniors have been paramount to the Paladins’ success. On Thursday, Pinecrest was successful on almost every scoring opportunity in the first half, thanks in part to some creative play design.

“We've kind of had a 'throw it against the wall and see what sticks' mentality,” Jameson said. “We threw a lot at them early in the season. What you saw today was a result of that -- we were able to be quite versatile. (We do) lots of different sets and work lots of different pieces of those sets.”

Dacula may not have been the most formidable team, but Pinecrest’s defense was effective, as it’s been all year. It’s been a key difference in this year’s team and the 2018 squad that missed out on the postseason.

“Our defense has been really strong, which has helped us on the offensive end,” DiFazio said.

As good as it feels for the Paladins to finally reach a program milestone, they know the work’s not over. The real challenge will begin next week, when they travel to play Marist in the first round.

“I’m grateful to be a part of it,” Jameson said. “I’m grateful that we had the opportunity to do that this year.”