St. Margaret’s boys lacrosse ends struggles against Foothill with dominant victory

TUSTIN — The past four seasons, the St. Margaret’s boys lacrosse team had been unable to find success against its rival Foothill.

St. Margaret’s finally had a breakthrough Tuesday night as it beat Foothill 9-4 in a nonleague game at Tustin High.

The Tartans (12-2) had their last two seasons end with losses to Foothill (9-5) in the CIF Southern Section playoffs. St. Margaret’s had not beaten Foothill since 2019 in the final US Lacrosse Orange County championship game.

“It felt great,” St. Margaret’s senior Austin Hicks said. “I know a lot of those guys and they’ve been beating me. To finally come out on top of those guys is a great feeling.”

It was the first win against Foothill for St. Margaret’s under coach Brian Kelly.

“It’s the regular season, so it only matters so much, but I do think psychologically it shows our guys that we can beat them,” Kelly said. “Sometimes when a team has your number it can get in your head a bit. So I think it was good for our guys to come out here and get a win.”

Foothill senior Blake Wozniak, the team’s leading scorer, scored the game’s opening goal just 70 seconds into the game.

St. Margaret’s caught fire for the rest of the first half and scored six unanswered goals to create separation between the two teams. St. Margaret’s led 6-2 at halftime.

St. Margaret’s rolling. Here’s a goal from Andrew Toubin with an assist from Carson Barber.
St. Margaret’s 6, Foothill 1 with 2:30 left in the 2nd @ocvarsity @SMESAthletics @smeslacrosse @SteveFryer

— Michael Huntley (@mikehuntley63) April 10, 2024

Johnny Iavarone had two goals for St. Margaret’s in the first half and Bryant University signee Conor McKenna had two points (one goal, one assist).

“Foothill always does a good job of throwing some sort of defensive wrinkle out there that isn’t necessarily normal so I thought our guys were poised and worked through that,” Kelly said. “Our guys weathered the storm and made plays when they needed to.”

St. Margaret’s goalie Eben O’Brien had seven crucial saves, many of them in the first half when the game was still close.

The Tartans’ long-stick defenders Matt Arena, a Hofstra signee, John Ullem and Reece Ballard were effective against Foothill, but O’Brien made some difficult saves from point-blank range.

Hicks, a Duke signee and possibly the highest-ranked college prospect in county history, had two goals Tuesday despite being constantly targeted by the Foothill defense.

The defensive focus on Hicks opened shooting lanes for other St. Margaret’s scorers like Andrew Toubin and freshman Carson Barber.

“Everyone produced today for our offense. When eyes are taken off of me and I’m dishing out some passes, it truly opens up our offense,” Hicks said. “Barber is legit. You’ll be writing about him for a long time.”

“Their strategy was to deny him the ball because a lot of our offense runs through him,” Kelly said of Hicks. “I thought he made some really nice plays that not everybody would notice. He did a lot of things that led to goals.”

Connor Pietras, Ben Wehage and Luke Inabinet scored goals for Foothill in addition to Wozniak.

St. Margaret’s has been the top-ranked team in the CIF-SS polls the entire season. The Tartans, who won the final US Lacrosse Section championship in 2019, have not reached the CIF-SS championship game since the playoffs fell under the CIF-SS umbrella in 2021.

“We’ve talked about not buying into the hype but being proud that people have a high opinion of us,” Kelly said of the rankings. “We understand there is a target on us because of that. At the end of the day, it means nothing. It feels good in the moment but it’s all about getting it done in the playoffs.”

St. Margaret’s is in the middle of the toughest portion of its schedule. The Tartans will play Mater Dei Saturday and Loyola on Tuesday, April 15. Mater Dei is No. 3 in the CIF polls and Loyola is No. 2.

Foothill, which is the defending CIF-SS Division 1 champion, will host Esperanza in a Crestview League game Thursday. If the Knights beat Esperanza they will clinch at least a share of the league championship.

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