OCEAN CITY — Coach Joe LaTorre calls it a trial by fire. His young Ocean City boys lacrosse offense is finding out that fire burns, as the Red Raiders try to maneuver their way through a brutal early season schedule.

The Red Raiders did a lot right on Saturday during a home matchup with a strong team from Pennsylvania, Emmaus High School, and dominated time of possession. But Ocean City couldn't finish off those possessions with goals, and the Hornets' ability to strike quickly on the counterattack led to an 8-4 Emmaus victory that dropped the Raiders to 2-4 on the season.

"They were good. They were big and physical," said Garret Benvenuti. "Anytime we got a step inside, they jumped the ball really fast. They were swarming us. We should have tried to slow them down a little bit in transition."

Ocean City (2-4) jumped out to a 1-0 lead on an early goal by Chris Raniszewski, but Emmaus (7-0) responded with a pair of goals within 30 seconds of each other on counterattacks. Dylan Keened knotted the score, 1-1, with a goal, then assisted on a tally by Konnor Haldeman as the Hornets took the lead for good. Nick Cannone scored with 7:12 left before halftime to push the lead to 3-1, and Joe Alston made it 4-1 when he scored a quick goal off a faceoff. The Red Raiders got one back moments later when Christian Kuhn scored off a pass by Logan Bloomstead to cut the deficit to 4-2, but Emmaus took a three-goal lead into halftime when Keenan scored again.

"Our defense played out of their mind. But we have to play four quarters. The offense has to do its job and the defense has to do theirs. Offensively, we just could not get anything going. It's frustrating when you win every faceoff and have longer possessions. The cards didn't fall for us today, but that was a good team we played today," said Ocean City coach Joe LaTorre. "It gets old after a while. We can beat the teams around here, but we can't beat these out-of-conference teams, and it's driving me insane. To the credit of the teams we've been playing, the first three teams we played — Paul VI, St. Augustine Prep and Cape Henlopen — they are all undefeated still and are perennial powers. Emmaus wins their conference almost every year. I told the guys they are facing tougher competition, but they aren't seeing the rewards of that yet. As the season goes on, they have to understand that if you don't bring your 'A' game in games like this, you're going to lose."

LaTorre said he felt like his squad getting out-played in the second quarter was the turning point.

"That second quarter killed us. It was 2-1 them going into the second, and they ran off three while we only got one. That was the difference in the game," he said. "We held them to two goals in the third and gave up one in the fourth that was just a desperation goal where you're doing things defensively that you're not normally doing. But we were running out of time and we had to make something happen."

The Red Raiders sliced the lead to 6-3 when Raniszewski scored again, this time with 5:46 remaining in the third quarter. But Emmaus had an answer for every offensive surge by Ocean City, as Cannone added his second goal of the game with 1:47 left in the third to push the lead to 7-3. Ocean City closed the gap to 7-4 on a goal by Benvenuti with 3:50 left, but the Hornets' defense did its job down the stretch.

LaTorre said he was disappointed with some sloppy play by his team. The Red Raiders had several unforced turnovers simply on bad passes or losing possession of the ball.

"I can't tell them more than I already have that we're playing quality teams. When we played St. Augustine, they didn't drop a single pass. Emmaus, today, they threw the ball away three times. We're so used to getting extra possessions from teams in this area that don't value the ball and lose it easily," LaTorre said. "This is a learning experience. It's really a trial by fire for the offense. We have such a young offense, and I'm hoping this part of the schedule helps them grow and mature their game. I explain to them every day that this is what real lacrosse is. We played a game yesterday against a CAL team that wasn't really pressuring us, and we were scoring at will. Good teams are going to press you and not give you open looks. We took too many outside shots, and maybe against a team that doesn't have a good defense or goalie you can score on those, but not against this team."

LaTorre hopes the tough early season nonconference schedule will get his team prepared to defend its Cape-Atlantic League championship against the likes of Mainland Regional, Absegami and Egg Harbor Township.

"This, I think, will help them, but it's tough. We lost four games two years ago and five games last year, and we're already 2-4 just six games in. The beginning of our season is like a run through a chainsaw, but I'm hoping they take the lessons they are learning from playing these teams and carry it on to our conference games," he said. "The positive we can take away is that we are getting better every day. The record doesn't show it, but I'd rather have a bad record and play quality teams than schedule poor out-of-conference teams and beat them up."

Added Benvenuti, "We just need to get some confidence going for the younger guys. We are young, so a little confidence wouldn't hurt."

Contact Dave O'Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays

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