MOREHEAD CITY — The Croatan and West Carteret boys lacrosse teams had two different kinds of nights on Tuesday.

The Cougars looked fresh and focused, cruising to an 18-4 win and even their season record at 2-2. The Patriots, on the other hand, were stunned into their first loss of the spring schedule, slipping to 3-1 as they struggled to find the back of the net.

No matter the score, the 14th meeting between the two programs showed just how far the sport has come in the last decade.

“I still remember back to the beginning when it was just a bunch of young kids at Western Park getting their butts kicked and learning the game,” Croatan coach George Benson said. “Now, fast forward and we’ve got two great programs in the county with kids who play hard and enjoy the game.”

The Cougars look poised to make a playoff run with a young roster that posted the program’s best-ever record last season at 11-4. The Patriots are in their best position ever, having won seven of their last nine games.

The biggest thing West coach Zachery Almand was focused on after the game was not letting the loss affect the boys’ perception of what’s possible going forward.

“One thing we preached was not letting doubt creep into the game,” he said. “Doubt and regret weigh heavier than a loss. It can snowball, and they shouldn’t let a loss like this do that. This a good club with talented players. We will still do big things.”

After the game, there was no shortage of camaraderie with players from both teams embracing and shaking hands and some even proposing jersey swaps.

“A lot of these guys play on the same team in the summer and fall, primarily the Red Devils,” Benson said. “They enjoy getting a chance to compete against each other.”

Croatan came out of the gates firing on all cylinders, scoring six goals in the first six minutes led by two from Graham Myers. He finished with three goals in the game. Drew DeGeorge topped the scoresheet by game’s end with four goals.

It was Brandon Pugh who slotted the game’s first goal for Croatan in the first minute. Two minutes later, West’s Holden Brown put one in to tie the score at 1-1. Holden Brown scored one goal for the Patriots while Luke Brown slotted two.

The Cougars exited the first quarter with a 7-2 lead and led 12-3 at halftime.

“We came out flat-footed and scatterbrained, just not ourselves,” Almand said. “We stepped it up in the second quarter, started to get our minds right, but it’s tough to get out of that hole.”

Croatan took its first double-digit lead with DeGeorge’s first goal of the second half. By game’s end, nine Cougars got on the scoresheet. Asher Denham scored three goals, Ethan Eifert and Pugh slotted two apiece, and Will Horrell, Sean Montanez, Beau Boyd and Matej Roth each netted one.

Despite the strong finish, Benson said he still saw where improvements could be made, in particular defensive slides.

“There’s not a game we have where we don’t learn something,” he said. “I feel good with where are offensively, but we still have some work to do on defense.”

One thing he did appreciate seeing was professionalism on the part of his players. Despite the runaway score, West continued to apply pressure and remained physical.

“The intensity stayed up through the end of the game. It would have been easy for them to let their emotions get the best of them,” Benson said. “But the kids kept their composures and stayed away from any chippy play.”

On the flip side, that strong physical play from the Patriots through the final whistle was something Almand appreciated. The home team even got a fourth score late in the third quarter from Sailor Koltun.

“No matter how the score went, they didn’t hang their heads,” Almand said. “They still hustled and worked for each other. They stuck to what we’ve practiced, what we’ve worked on. I really liked that they stuck true to their principles.”

Croatan took 22 shots on goal in the game with four saves from West goalie Erik Bleck. The Cougars’ starting goalie, Jackson Griffing, finished with seven saves while backup Davis Foxworth tallied four.

On faceoffs, Croatan’s Horrell won 14 and West’s Richard Jiang won 12.

Croatan will look the keep its winning streak alive Friday with a visit to Swansboro (2-0). It will hit the road again Tuesday with a trip to First Flight (0-3).

West will travel to First Flight on Friday and host Hunt (0-3) on Monday.

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