Barry Chin/Globe staff photos
As the final seconds drained off the clock at Endicott College, time ran out on the title hopes of the Home Grown boys’ lacrosse squad.
The North Andover-based team absorbed a tough 7-6 loss to Shake ‘n’ Bake in the championship game of the North Shore Lacrosse Pro League last week in Beverly, with Matthew Scalise netting two of his three goals for the victors in the second half. But the team’s mere presence in the game was quite an achievement.
Home Grown, whose 25-player roster represents 11 high schools and 10 area communities, is only a year removed from a winless campaign. And this season did not start much better.
“At first guys weren’t taking it seriously. I think we all just thought that it was summer league and we wouldn’t have to work as hard,’’ said Pat Brothers, a 6-foot-1, 220-pound goalie entering his senior year at Malden Catholic High.
It’s not a recipe for success in the elite, invitation-only five-team league. And the majority of Home Grown’s players were teammates for the first time.
Sean Fox, a midfielder from North Andover and St. John’s Prep, said, “It was hard to learn everyone’s style of play. We had a hard time bonding initially.’’
The easygoing attitude and lack of chemistry showed in a string of early tournaments. At their second tourney, the Jersey Shootout, the squad was forced to address their problems.
“They weren’t up to speed at first, and it was ugly. They hadn’t seen lacrosse played at that speed,’’ said head coach Bryan Brazill. “We left with our tail between our legs.’’
“We had to learn that we weren’t going to win if we didn’t put in the work,’’ added Ryan Forgione, a defenseman from Haverhill and Central Catholic.
Home Grown put it together at the highly regarded Champ Camp at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, ending the tourney with five straight wins.
“All of sudden, they figured out how to play faster and what looks to make. That was when I knew we were going to be successful,’’ Brazill said.
When the North Shore season kicked into gear, Home Grown was ready to compete at a high level, and suffered just one loss in eight regular-season games, earning the top seed for the playoffs.
They learned to play together, and trust each other.
“In a game at Champ Camp, three defenders were holding Brothers back,’’ said Nick DePietro, a defenseman from North Andover who also attends St. John’s Prep.
“I yelled his name, and he flipped it to me without even looking. He just trusted me to be there and make the play.’’
Home Grown had swept the regular-season series against Shake ’n’ Bake (7-2 overall), an impressive feat given that the majority of the Shake ‘n’ Bake players were drawn from the St. John’s Prep squad that won the Division 1 state championship this spring.
Four Home Grown players — Fox, DePietro, Brian Hallstrom of North Andover, and Connor Murray of North Reading — had been cut from the team after tryouts.
“We all play varsity lacrosse, and we all know we can compete. It just gave us motivation,’’ Fox said.
“I didn’t want to stop playing lacrosse just because I didn’t make the school team. If I can have the chance to play year-round’’ with Home Grown, DePietro added, “that’s awesome.’’
Brazill said that “most kids who get cut from a high school team will stay down. They’ll think maybe the sport isn’t for them. These guys just worked harder. This team has a lot of kids that are used to overcoming adversity through sports, and that’s been really cool to see. They’re all hungry all the time.’’
As his team prepares for the fall season, Brazill is trying to keep it all in perspective. Just minutes after his squad lost the championship game, the players were back to joking around on the field.
“I think they play the sport seriously,’’ said Brazill. “But where other kids think it’s the end all, be all, they know it’s just a sport.’’
Doug Saffir can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.