Balers attacker Justin Cullimber surveys the field in a May 19 match against Live Oak. Photo by Bryant Hammer.

The May 19 boys lacrosse match between Live Oak and San Benito featured endless back-and-forth action, big hits and impressive shotmaking. In the end, the Acorns ran away with a 14-5 win. Live Oak freshman sensation Ben Ledwith outscored San Benito all by himself with six goals, including five in the second half. 

“Our team work was awesome, we’re finally clicking and our passes are linking,” Ledwith said. “Our timing is really good right now and it shows on the field.”
Does it ever. The Acorns improved to 7-1 after the victory, with their only loss coming to Central Coast Section powerhouse Bellarmine. Because they are playing as an independent this season, the Acorns are not eligible to compete in the upcoming Central Coast Section playoffs. 

“If you asked me from the first game, I would say we weren’t ready (to compete against the top programs),” Live Oak coach Gary Rosyski said. “We still have a long way to go, but we’ve progressed in such a fast manner that yeah, it’s always tough when you don’t get to compete (in something like the CCS playoffs).”

The Balers (1-6) are hoping to replicate the on-field success of the Live Oak program, which is only in its second year of fielding a team. Athletes like Ledwith enter the program with years of lacrosse experience, allowing them to make an immediate impact. Hollister now has a junior lacrosse club program called the Hawgs, and Balers coach Chris Branon knows athletes taking up the sport at an earlier age will be be more advanced when they enter high school.

“Whether you get them at 8 years old or 14, you start at the same level so it’s a growth process,” Branon said. “Once you get a stick in their hands, you’re going to know in the first three minutes whether they’re going to play lacrosse one day or for many days. So having the Hawgs is really good, a win-win.”

Josh White led San Benito with two goals, and Jimmy Moran, Justin Cullimber and Noah Hoffpauir had one goal apiece. Live Oak displayed plenty of offensive firepower, as Collin Fisher (three goals), Cayden Leedy (two), Colby Allen (two) and Zach Souza (one goal) rounded out the team’s scoring. The Acorns outshot the Balers 39-15, won 16 of the 21 faceoffs and were superior in the ground ball battle, 37-13. 

They also got stronger as the game wore on, outscoring San Benito 6-0 in the third and 3-1 in the fourth to win going away. That was no coincidence, as the Acorns take pride in their physical and mental toughness. 

“We preach good habits and constant work ethic from start to finish,” Rosyski said. “We keep pushing and pushing and we know if we do that, most of our opponents are going to have a tough time keeping up with us.”

San Benito outplayed Live Oak early, scoring three consecutive goals to take a 3-1 lead with 8 minutes, 42 seconds left in the second period. However, Live Oak dominated from that point on, outscoring the Balers 13-2 the rest of the way. Midway through the second period, the Acorns started to dominate the time of possession, with Fisher and Kacper Leonczuk helping lead the way. 

Nolan Ledwith won a match-high nine ground balls, Souza was 9-for-13 on faceoffs and Fisher won 6 of 7 faceoffs. White helped San Benito control the possession early on, while Jayden Romero, Hoffpauir and Cullimber put some hard shots on goal. The Balers played with a ton of energy early but couldn’t sustain it. 

“We completely lost steam,” Branon said. “We were not controlling the ball getting from defense to offense, and they played very well. They have a very good young team with good discipline, and they know the game pretty well.”

Midway through the third quarter, Ben Ledwith made a 30-yard run to the front of the San Benito goal before drawing a penalty, prompting a player or coach from the Live Oak sideline to yell, “Man, he’s working hard!” That single play epitomized the Acorns’ effort level and attitude. Of course, talent and experience have also been key to the team’s success. 

“We have a number of players who have played for five to six years, and we rely on them for the X’s and O’s, but what we rely on from the other guys is pure athleticism and keeping other teams on their heels,” Rosyski said. 

Even though the team’s record is not where he wants it to be, Branon said players like Romero, White, Moran, Cullimber and Justin Corea have been impact players all season. There are a total of 45 players spread out among the junior varsity and varsity teams, and he expects the numbers to increase in the coming years. 

“We’re going in the right direction,” he said. 

Live Oak is certainly a team on the rise, and as impressive as it looked against San Benito, it was without the services of Luke Richey, whom Ben Ledwith said is the team’s best player. 

“Luke has been great and Collin and Colby are like quarterbacks out there and doing awesome,” Ledwith said. “I think we’re going to be really good in the next couple of years, and we’re going to be fighting for some championships.”

Balers midfielder Justin Corea battles a Live Oak player in a May 19 match. Photo by Bryant Hammer.
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Emanuel Lee primarily covers sports for Weeklys/NewSVMedia's Los Gatan publication. Twenty years of journalism experience and recipient of several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. Emanuel has run eight marathons with a PR of 3:13.40, counts himself as a true disciple of Jesus Christ and loves spending time with his wife and their two lovely daughters, Evangeline and Eliza.


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