Hilton Head Island High boys lacrosse coach John Werner smiled when discussing his team's lightning-quick fast-break offense.
"We worked on it yesterday, and it definitely paid off," Werner said.
The Seahawks certainly pushed the tempo Tuesday night, breaking quickly out of the gates and weathering a rally before pulling away from Chapin for a 9-7 win in the first round of the S.C. High School League state playoffs. Playing at home, the fourth-seeded Seahawks used the muscle and mastery of midfielder Thomas Farrell to build an early three-goal lead, but soon found themselves in a heated battle with the No. 5 seed Eagles.
Employing a harassing pressure defense to create turnovers, the home squad pounced on Chapin's mistakes and converted with devastating effect, tallying a slew of fast-break goals. Werner said his attack appears to be coming together at the right time.
"That transition game was the best that I've seen in a long time from us," Werner said.
The scoresheet reflected the squad's balance, with Farrell and attackers Will Urbin and Bently Moore tallying a pair of goals each. The linchpin was senior Conner Johnston, who piled up four assists, each more impressive than the last. Johnston's playmaking ability opened up shooting opportunities for teammates and left the Chapin goaltender wrong-footed.
"Conner's got such a great stick, and as you saw tonight, his awareness of the next pass was out of control," Werner said. "The attack, when they get a chance, is jelling."
It wasn't just the attack that put on a show. Seahawks goaltender Mike Strum did his part in front of the net, making a few crucial saves late to seal the win.
"Honestly, this adrenaline feel is going to stay in my memory until the day I die," Strum said. "Until now, I've never really been in the spotlight like that."
Strum said his defense relied on its chemistry to continue communicating, even as the Eagles rallied with three goals to tie the game in the second quarter. The Seahawks pushed a 4-3 halftime lead to 9-5 before holding on down the stretch.
That teamwork was almost undone by the excellence of Chapin's Jack Enright, who scored four goals.
"He definitely had my number tonight," Strum said. "I've never seen a shot like his before. I've always faced shots that would go high or low, or bounce, but I've never faced a shot that went six to twelve in that kind of motion, and it was just hard to read. I had to depend on my team, and they pulled through."
For Werner, who said his team came out flat to start the game, the victory is a job well done. It earns the Seahawks a second-round trip Thursday to face top-seeded Wando. If the Seahawks want to advance, they'll need to execute even more effectively.
"We've got to go play probably the best team in the state with nothing to lose," Werner said. "You have to go play a perfect game. You've got to control the mistakes, control the ball, and never give up if you're a couple goals down. These guys know exactly what they need to do."