FAIRMONT — After being out for over a month with injury, Fairmont Senior’s Dom Stingo returned to score five goals for the Fairmont Senior Polar Bears in their final regular season game, a 17- 7 against the Mountain State Vikings on Saturday.
Stingo’s five goals were tied by junior Polar Bear Hunter Bragg, who also led the team with five assists, and tied for the team lead with five ground balls, alongside Frankie Pagliaro.
Six players scored for Fairmont Senior on Saturday – Bragg and Stingo each with five, Pagliaro with three, Rocco Episcopo with two, and Landon Black and Alex Kolek each with one.
With Stingo on the mend for part of the regular season, young players like freshman Episcopo had to step up — and he did on Saturday, with offensive stalwart Josiah Smith unavailable.
“Rocco Episcopo is a freshman, and he’s getting better every day in practice,” Fairmont Senior head coach Tony Stingo said. “He had two big goals today, almost three. He is improving day by day. Really proud of this kid.
“He played into himself, he didn’t try to overdo it. I think he only had one turnover, that’s really important. He had a flat take away, scored two goals, it’s really good to see him.”
Two early Bragg goals were sandwiched between one by Frankie Pagliaro to give Fairmont Senior a 3-0 lead. The Polar Bears defense watched in those opening minutes, with Maddox Sliger and Jace Dalton – who forced a record 10 turnovers – each showing composure by forcing turnovers even when the Vikings had possession very close to goal .
Mountain State was able to get on the board with just over two minutes in the first quarter, after penalties forced the Polar Bears to defend against two men. Gage Bailey capitalized on the under-equipped defense with a goal from the right flank.
Bailey and Axel Blom tied for the team lead in goals for Mountain State, each scoring a pair. Zach Erlandson, Bryce Bates and Ryan Crowder each scored a goal for the Vikings.
Each team scored once more in the first quarter – Stingo assisted on a Hunter Bragg goal, escaping from position X over the goal to draw in the defense before throwing a pass straight into Bragg’s pocket to prepare a laser shot from the left flank. The goal earned Bragg a hat trick in the first quarter.
Blom scored his first goal to end the quarter, making it 4-2 for the Polar Bears.
The second quarter was an assault for Fairmont Senior. The Polar Bears scored eight goals without allowing any during the period. Pagliaro, Bragg and Landon Black each scored once in the quarter, while Stingo and Rocco Episcopo each scored twice.
Two of the game’s biggest highlights came in the second. Stingo showed off his passing skills midway through the period, throwing a perfect pass from the X over no less than five Mountain State Sticks to a leaping Hunter Bragg. No sooner had Bragg’s feet touched the ground than the junior fired an aerial shot that found the back of the net and gave Fairmont Senior a 7-2 lead.
Just over a minute later, Landon Black showed off his batting skills by scoring another Polar Bear goal. Black cleanly picked up an under-throw pass that bounced just below his feet on the right flank, and in the same move fired a shot that jumped short into the goal just past the goalkeeper’s feet to extend the lead of the Fairmont Senior.
Fairmont Senior extended their lead in the second largely through their efforts to line up the balls on the ground, especially on face-offs, and through their conduct on clearance attempts. Polar Bears forwards made life miserable for Vikings defenders, using their sticks to move the ball and force turnovers before Mountain State could get an out.
Fairmont Senior forced 22 turnovers on Saturday, many of which came from the Vikings side.
“We focused on our drive from the attack and the midfield position,” Stingo said. “When we set it up, and everything is fine, it’s very, very difficult to clear the ball to us. I’m really happy with the way it worked today, and the way it went. worked out all season as long as we stick to our roles and stay disciplined.
Even when Mountain State managed to clear the ball and get on the field, it ended up doing more harm than good – when Fairmont Senior got the ball back, the Vikings struggled to get back on defense in time .
Episcopo scored twice in the second half of the second on two of those transition opportunities, getting assists from Jackson Lintner and Hunter Bragg in the process.
The second half started like the first half; with Hunter Bragg scoring a goal. The Fairmont Senior’s lead increased to 11 at the end of the third, 15-4.
While the Polar Bears were making substitutions, Mountain State was desperately trying to get back into the game. Blom, Bailey, Bryce Bates and Ryan Crowder each scored unanswered goals from Fairmont Senior in the fourth to cut the lead to eight, 15-7, but goals from Pagliaro and Stingo cut the margin to 10 at the end of the match.
“They’re not a bad team there,” Tony Stingo said. “When we made mass substitutions, they did a really good job of moving the ball and exploiting some of our young lads.
“But in the end, those same younger guys started to suppress, started to play their roles, they got closer inside and they did a really good job in a team that’s not bad at all. They have some kids who can fill it in, they’re well trained so I’m really happy with the youngsters and the way they played today.”
With the regular season coming to an end on Saturday, the Polar Bears are considering a postseason game in Morgantown, tentatively scheduled for next Friday or Saturday.
As the playoffs approach, Stingo sees a wide range of possibilities for his team.
“I feel like in spurts we’re playing anybody in West Virginia, I don’t care who it is,” he said. “And I also feel like in spurts, we can be beaten by anyone in West Virginia. We’re extremely inconsistent, but when things are going well, we’re very hard to stop.
“Offensively we have a lot of weapons. We’re getting a lot better on the face-off. And defensively we’re starting to be more disciplined. I think we’re a bit more dangerous than some people think. We’re 8 – 3, and we’re very easily 10-1, but that’s just not how it went. Maybe we’ll surprise some people.