Lacrosse puts baseball on notice in proud towns of East Lyme and Waterford

Waterford's Logan Bowdish loses his footing and the ball after being checked by East Lyme's Matthew Bauman in the second quarter of Thursday's ECC boys' lacrosse tournament title game. The Vikings trailed 7-2 at the time, but the hard hit provided a spark as they rallied for a 11-9 win. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Waterford's Logan Bowdish loses his footing and the ball after being checked by East Lyme's Matthew Bauman in the second quarter of Thursday's ECC boys' lacrosse tournament title game. The Vikings trailed 7-2 at the time, but the hard hit provided a spark as they rallied for a 11-9 win. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

East Lyme — Dear local baseball people: Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Dismiss lacrosse as the flavor of the month if you'd like.

Just don't be shocked if you awaken one day and go, "Who turned out the lights?"

Because two of our proudest baseball towns — perhaps erstwhile baseball towns now — gave us a two-hour infomercial on lacrosse's sudden dominance in this corner of the world Thursday night. East Lyme vs. Waterford. The teams we thought would be playing for the league baseball championship. Instead, they played for the lacrosse title.

And it was among the most entertaining sporting events of the season around here. Drama, skill, violence, rivalry ... the whole package, amid a backdrop of fog and mist, allowing for an eerie, if not mystical, environment.

As one of the game officials said after the game: "If they had this sport when we were kids, I'd never have played Little League."

Seems to be the trend around here, no? Fewer Little League teams and more lacrosse teams. And had you watched Thursday night, you'd have understood. Hit a curveball or the guy in front of you with a stick?

Play of the game: Waterford, the upstart program, was leading East Lyme 7-2 in the second period. The Lancers have never beaten their blood rivals to the west, who happen to be the region's Rockefellers of lacrosse. That's when East Lyme senior Matt Bauman leveled Logan Bowdish, Waterford's best player. In hockey, they might have called it crosschecking. Bauman was penalized. Tempers and testosterone flared. It was fascinating.

But in that one play, you saw passion, aggression, the sending of a message and perhaps even some strategy, all wrapped in the idea that lacrosse, a little like hockey, allows such combativeness without the threat of, you know, being arrested.

From that point, East Lyme outscored Waterford 9-2 and won another conference championship.

"Well," Bauman said, not long after helping douse coach Gary Wight with the water bucket, "we're playing Waterford. It was there. I still don't think it was a penalty. I thought I got him on the numbers. I think it set the tone for the game again that we weren't going to get pushed around. We let them know we're still in this game and this is our turf."

Bauman is a case study in lacrosse v. baseball. He grew up a baseball player. But then ...

"It was in third grade and my dad told me I had to make a decision. Baseball or lacrosse," Bauman said. "Really, the difference was that I like to be active. I like to be moving around. I'm an aggressive kid. I like to get my anger out. This sport involves constant moving and thinking. I like that. Don't get me wrong, baseball is a great sport. I love watching it, but it's a lot of standing around. This is constant movement. I really love the action and the aggression."

Is there a kid left out there to whom Bauman's sentiments wouldn't appeal?

East Lyme's Owen Yourell said, "I played baseball all the way up from tee ball. I came to lacrosse in high school because I wanted to be better conditioned. Plus, lacrosse is more fun. There's more grit to it. You need to be athletic and have skills. You can lay the wood, too, as some people say."

This just in: Many baseball folks, if they've read this far, have vomited in their mouths. It's going to get worse. Here's why: rivalry begets interest. And the biggest rivalry in the ECC right now is Waterford v. East Lyme, already an attractive rivalry in every other sport. Any little kid watching Thursday's game would dream to play in it. Perhaps more so than East Lyme/Waterford baseball on a cold April afternoon.

"The sport is building in the area. I think it's important for the area that we're playing and competing with these SCC (Southern Connecticut Conference) teams," Bauman said. "We're elevating our level. Now we're challenging all these teams around us to get better. What Waterford has done is great. Not long ago in youth lacrosse, they wouldn't even play us. It's great see their program is coming up."

And get this: There are more kids in Waterford's youth lacrosse program than baseball. This is Waterford, remember. The region's proudest baseball town, nine state titles in tow. And now it's – gulp — becoming a lacrosse town?

Whoa. Times, they are a changin.'

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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