Analysis: Hail Cougars! Barron avenges first-ever loss to Naples; district dynasty alive and well

Jayson Andino, center left, leaps in celebration with teammate Will Asher (9) following one of Barron Collier's four third-period goals during Thursday night's 11-7 win over Naples in the District 20 title game. GREGG HARDY/CSI


The word is out: Lacrosse in Collier County — both at the high school and youth level — is getting bigger. Fast.

Eight months ago, when I launched CollierSportsInsider, I told a family friend whose son, Bryce Cousins, stars for Barron Collier High School, that lacrosse coverage would get a good ride on this website come spring time.

Unfortunately, our lacrosse coverage didn’t start until just after the “Game of the Year” — Naples’ monumental 12-11 overtime win at Barron Collier on March 28. It was monumental because Naples (or any other Collier County team, I think) had never beaten the big, bad Cougars, who have owned the sport locally since its inception at the varsity level a decade ago. And the Golden Eagles did it in the most dramatic way — converting on a Hail Mary pass that nearly traveled the length of the field with three seconds left.

The aftermath of that game is still being felt, as witnessed in Barron Collier’s 11-7 home victory Thursday over top-seeded Naples in the District 20 championship game. Tired of hearing (or reading) about how their time as Collier County’s alpha dog (or cat?) may be coming to an end, the Cougars have banished their two District 20 rivals, Naples and Community School, in impressive fashion.

“I told you we had it,” Barron Collier senior Jayson Andino said in a voice barely above a whisper as he tapped me on the arm, politely interrupting a postgame interview with Cousins on Thursday night.

It’s true. Andino was supremely confident after Tuesday’s 14-0 romp over Community School that Barron would avenge that earlier loss to the Golden Eagles.

Naples did, however, put up a fight in the first half, trailing 6-5 at intermission. And with standout goalie Zeb Fuller guarding the Eagles’ net, you had the feeling that the game could’ve gone either way. But Barron took it to Naples in the second half, dominating possession of the ball and putting some distance between them and the Eagles with a third-period scoring outburst.

Barron Collier’s Bryce Cousins heads upfield after winning a face-off against Naples on Thursday night. GREGG HARDY/CSI

“We came in as underdogs, which we don’t really do often, but this whole week we’ve been prepping, putting a lot of work in,” said Cousins, the Cougars’ face-off specialist and Jacksonville University recruit who scored a couple of first-half goals Thursday. “At halftime, we told ourselves we needed to flip the switch and get going.”

John Sivillo, the gravel-voiced Cougars coach with a thick Long Island accent, said his team made several halftime adjustments against Naples. Chief among them? How to stop Naples attacker Christian Drouin after he scored four goals in the first half. Sivillo said the Cougars used their fastest defenders to run out on Drouin’s hands and “shut him down.”

“The second half really just boiled down to us pushing the envelope a little bit and understanding what we needed to do to go ahead and dominate them,” Sivillo said. “We understood how they were running their defense. They were leaving certain openings for us that we knew we could capitalize on, and that’s exactly what we did.”

And even though Barron Collier controlled much of the second-half action, when Naples did bring the ball deep into the Cougars’ zone, they had Shane Molloy in front of the net ready to slam the door.

A junior, like Fuller, Molloy was every bit the equal to his Eagles counterpart. With Naples in second-half desperation mode, he made several stops on point-blank shots.

Barron Collier goalie Shane Molloy juggles the ball after stopping a Naples shot Thursday night. GREGG HARDY/CSI

“Zeb’s a great goalie — probably the best I’ve ever played with,” Molloy said. “It kind of motivates me to try to do even better, to try to match him because he makes some ridiculous saves. I try to do my best to make as many saves I can to try to help my team win.”

Said Sivillo: “(Molloy) is fundamentally sound, and that’s what’s awesome about him. He’s got some clearing issues, which we’re working on, and that’s fine, but the kid stood on his head and was able to make some plays and is controlling the defense, which is what we like.”

Sivillo credited both Molloy and Fuller for making several big-time stops. “There was a lot of doorstep stuff on both of them that was really impressive,” he said.

Now, for the Cougars, it’s on to Gulf Coast for Friday night’s regional quarterfinal. The Sharks, like Naples and Community School, have designs on unseating Barron Collier as Collier County’s top program. The Cougars beat the Sharks, 10-9, back on March 8.

It’s been a trying season for the Cougars. Illness, injuries (to players and coaches) and some humbling losses have forced them to re-evaluate where they stand.

“We’re just now totally getting together and figuring everything out little by little,” Cousins said. “Every practice we’re getting better and every game we’re getting better. I think we’ll do pretty well in the playoffs this year.”

Said Sivillo: “My hat’s off to this team. We’ve had some roller-coaster situations go on with our season with a lot of guys being sick, a lot of injuries — we’re still dealing with some injuries with the coaches being down, losing coaches, gaining coaches, losing coaches … it’s been very interesting.”

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