Commentary: Cougars bow out of playoffs, but not before getting the win they had to have

Barron Collier's Will Asher, center left, and Adam Suid celebrate a third-quarter goal during the Cougars' 12-9 regional quarterfinal win over Gulf Coast on April 26. GREGG HARDY/CSI

BY GREGG HARDY
CSI EDITOR

Wants and needs.

The Barron Collier High School boys lacrosse team didn’t get the result it wanted last Tuesday night in Sarasota: a regional semifinal victory over Cardinal Mooney. Instead, the local Cougars lost to the “other” Cougars, 15-5, in Sarasota.

Four days earlier, though, Barron Collier got the result it needed: a regional quarterfinal win over an undefeated Gulf Coast squad. The 12-9 home win avenged last year’s sudden-death playoff loss to the Sharks, not to mention a regular-season setback at Gulf Coast one month ago.

PHOTO GALLERY: View images of the Sharks-Cougars game

Coach John Sivillo hopes the victory over Gulf Coast will pump up a program that not only ruled Collier County for the first 10 years since lacrosse became a varsity sport, but also used to be a factor in the postseason right up until last year.

From 2012 to 2017, the Cougars routinely won multiple playoff games and held their own against Florida’s east coast lacrosse hotbeds like St. Thomas Aquinas, Jupiter, Benjamin and Gulliver Prep.

“(This win) tells them, ‘I’ve got to come out more, and I’ve got to like this sport, and I love this sport because of what just happened (and) I want to feel that feeling.’ That’s what I hope,” said Sivillo, who will lose 12 seniors — and many starters — from this year’s squad. “And I talked to my JV players, and that is the feeling that they have — a lot of them. They’re excited. They want to do stuff in the summer; they want to get together; they want to do things; and that’s great that they have that. I love that. We need that.”

(The Cougars’ cupboard certainly won’t be bare next year — not with the expected return of key players like Yates Miller, Jack Laterra and Sam Drew, among others.)

THE TURNING POINT

Barron Collier stared down Gulf Coast with a masterful second-half performance. GREGG HARDY/CSI

A 12-6 loss at Gulf Coast on March 22 could have been demoralizing for the Cougars, who owned a 3-5 record at the time. Instead, it galvanized them. They went 8-1 the rest of the way, including a 16-3 trouncing of Community School of Naples to remain undefeated in district championship games.

Still, the Cougars had to overcome the psychological hurdle of beating a Gulf Coast team that sported a 15-0 record and, suddenly, had their number … or so it seemed.

After playing a spirited first half only to find themselves trailing 5-3 at intermission, the Cougars flipped a switch and, just like that, they were once again the dominant team that ruled Collier County for a decade. Miller quickly cut Barron Collier’s deficit to one, and later in the third quarter, he gave the Cougars a lead they would not relinquish.

It was sweet redemption for Barron’s outgoing senior class.

“There’s always a sense of a little bit of a rivalry, and especially with them beating us last year, I think we came in more humble this time, knowing that they are a worthy opponent,” said Will Asher, who matched fellow senior Adam Suid with three goals against Gulf Coast. “But after our first loss to them in the regular season, we really developed as a team. … Our growth from that (game) to now has been exponential. We’ve grown a lot as a team and worked out all the kinks you could say that should’ve been worked out in the beginning (of the season).”

CRANKY COUGARS

Coach John Sivillo allows himself to celebrate the Cougars’ triumph while watching the final moments of their regional quarterfinal win over Gulf Coast. GREGG HARDY/CSI

Barron Collier was a jubilant — and yet, ornery — bunch when its year-long wait for payback ended with the final whistle against Gulf Coast.

A couple of articles spotlighting Community School and Gulf Coast just prior to their playoff games against Barron were all the motivation that the Cougars needed.

“Do you understand that that’s great for us? We love that,” Sivillo said. “Hey, any press is good press, right?”

If anyone considered Barron Collier to be an underdog, Sivillo didn’t seem to mind.

“That’s kind of the goal — ‘OK, everybody thinks we’re done, so we’ve got to keep on pushing ourselves and keep on going further and further to basically shut ’em up,” Sivillo said. “I hate to say it that way, but that’s what the guys know. They know that we need to come back and do Barron lacrosse. As long as we play Barron lacrosse and stick to our guns and do what we’re supposed to do, we will win games.”

Follow CSI on Twitter at @239CSI or like CSI on Facebook at facebook.com/CollierSportsInsider. Email Gregg Hardy at editor@colliersportsinsider.com.