Several hundred fans nearly filled the home stands and a large group of students stood throughout the game. The public address announcer called out the names of several alumni in attendance.
Decatur’s first appearance in the Class A-AAAA state lacrosse semifinals May 16 was a big deal for the city. And while the Bulldogs lost to Pope 11-6, the performance did not take the luster off this season’s accomplishment.
The Bulldogs finished the year 14-6, the most wins in the six-year history of the program.
“I feel bad for the seniors, but they can be proud that they were part of the best team we’ve ever had,” Bulldogs’ coach Wes Hatfield said.
Decatur is one of six schools in the county that plays lacrosse. Marist and St. Pius have had programs for several years, while Arabia Mountain, Dunwoody and Druid Hills began programs this season.
The Bulldogs played a difficult schedule and battled through seven one-goal games, going 3-4 in those contests. Decatur opened the state playoffs with a 9-6 win over Starr’s Mill, and then defeated Chattahoochee 6-5 in overtime in the quarterfinals.
Before the championship game, all of Decatur’s losses were by one or two goals.
“We’re a young team and we learned a lot,” Hatfield said. “Our run through the playoffs was tough and the whole season was tough. But that was good for us.”
Six seniors were on the roster this season, including Kurt Robinson, who scored a goal against Pope. All of Decatur’s other goals in the semifinal were scored by freshmen or sophomores. Sophomore Deangelo Watkins scored two goals, while freshman Lang Rodgers and sophomores Nick Bentley and Jonah Florence each added one.
Pope scored seven seconds into the game and Decatur answered less than two minutes later to tie the game 1-1. Pope, however, reeled off seven straight goals to lead 8-1 at halftime. The Greyhounds built an 11-3 lead before the Bulldogs scored the final three goals of the game.
Junior goalie Ben Rigger, one of the Bulldogs’ captains, battled the sun through the first half but made some strong stops in the fourth quarter to allow Decatur to mount the small rally.
“We didn’t play well in the first half, but some of it was [Pope’s] outstanding play,” Hatfield said. “But this is the best we’ve ever done so overall. We grew up a lot.”