Half-jokingly, Ben Lodge suited up in goalie gear and jumped into net, facing shots from a collection of 11-year-olds one day last summer, part of a weeklong clinic run by Canton High boys’ lacrosse coach Bill Bendell.
“Hey, be careful,” Bendell told Lodge, fully aware that he did not have a returning goalie this spring. “You’re going to really play yourself into that role.”
One month and eight games — all wins — into the 2013 season, Lodge has seized the position.
The slender 6-foot-2, 165-pound junior boasts a stellar 4.8 goals-against average and .723 save percentage for the Bulldogs, who sit atop the Hockomock League’s Davenport Division. Canton has already topped its win total of a year ago, a 7-11 season that ended with a 5-4 loss to Weston in the preliminary round of the tournament.
This spring, the Bulldogs have much higher hopes, and that optimism starts in the back with Lodge, who was a middie his freshman season before moving up to attack a year ago.
The extent of his work in goal was nothing more than goofing around during free time. Bendell had considered a few other athletes to fill the role, but by the end of the first week of practice in March, Lodge was clearly the one.
“It takes a certain person,” Bendell said. “You have to be tough. There are guys that really want to do it but they’re scared of the ball. . . . It’s hard to say to a kid, ‘Get in there and do it.’ You have to have a kid that really wants to do it.”
Senior captain Connor O’Brien viewed Lodge as a viable candidate all along.
“The day our season ended last year, that was the main topic of the offseason. Who’s going to play?” O’Brien recalled. “I actually suggested Ben Lodge from the beginning, because I know he’s a tough kid. He has good hand-eye coordination. But he had no experience.”
Lodge believes his background as an offensive player has proven advantageous. He can anticipate moves by attackers in one-on-one situations, tell when and where midfielders are going to cut, and start the Bulldogs in transition from defense to the attack.
He wasn’t very busy in last Friday’s matchup at host Bishop Connolly in Fall River, when senior attack Pat Ward pumped in four goals to power the Bulldogs to a 14-0 win. Lodge made four stops in his three quarters of action.
O’Brien, a 6-1, 190-pound two-year captain who was sidelined last season with a broken wrist, is the defensive anchor, consistently neutralizing opposing attacks. Junior Matt Bagley continues to impress in his third year as a starter, and senior Quinn Merrigan earned the third starting spot early this season after pinning down the Division 3 state wrestling title at 138 pounds this winter.
Assistant coach Peter DeSisto , according to O’Brien, deserves credit for having the defense working as a more cohesive unit. On offense, the Bulldogs are working out of a 2-2-2 formation, as opposed to a 1-3-2 scheme.
The result: Canton is averaging more than nine goals per game, paced by Ward (32 goals, four assists) and senior captain J.C. Marcone (20 goals, 11 assists). Senior midfielder Kurt Leavitt, who netted the game-winner against Foxborough April 24 for Canton’s second double-overtime win in a row, sets the tone by winning two-thirds of his draws.
The cautiously optimistic Ward is wary of getting too amped up, but it can be hard to resist given the unprecedented success.
“I just hope we can keep it going and not let the highs get too high . . . or the lows get too low,” Ward said. “We’re on top right now, but that can change every day, so we don’t want to drop one that we should win.”
The Bulldogs are indeed on top for now, having beaten Foxborough for the first time since 2007 and Franklin for the first time since 2005. They’re enjoying the ride while it lasts.
“I’m really in kind of a bit of shock,” O’Brien said. “We kind of struck gold with that one,’’ meaning Lodge.
“That’s exactly it,” Bendell agreed. “He’s been the biggest reason, I think, that we’re undefeated. We had a real good team coming back, but if you don’t have a goalie, that’s it.”
Loranger back, and Apponequet 9-2
A torn anterior cruciate ligament kept Lizzie Loranger out during Apponequet’s field hockey and basketball seasons, but in her return to lacrossse this spring, she has picked up right where she left off as a sophomore.
A three-year varsity player, Loranger has collected a team-high 47 goals for the 9-2 Lakers, who sit comfortably atop the South Coast Conference standings.
Coach Janet Tavares said she wanted to take it easy with Loranger, who can also play attack when needed, but Loranger quickly proved it wouldn’t be an issue.
“She came back like she didn’t miss a beat,” Tavares said.
Senior Hope Moran and junior Ashley Figueredo combine for an approximately .400 save percentage as a goalie platoon. They allow an average of nine goals per game, usually good enough with an offense that nets more than 17.
The Lakers fell to Bishop Stang, 11-10, Monday afternoon, but according to Tavares the team showed mental toughness, one of the areas she would like her athletes to improve on in the coming weeks.
Apponequet rallied from a three-goal halftime deficit before eventually losing.
“We showed our true colors for a while there and it was a back-and-forth game,” Tavares said. “It is going well . . . but we have some work that needs to be done, obviously.”
Here and there
The Foxborough girls (9-0) outscored opponents 47-13 last week. They topped Milford (17-3), Canton (13-8), and Sharon (17-2). . . . Archbishop Williams junior Nick Menzel of Raynham has collected 17 points (eight goals, nine assists) in the team’s last three games. . . . When the Bridgewater-Raynham boys (9-1) beat Nantucket, 20-6, on Saturday, the Trojans qualified for the Division 1 state tournament for the fourth year in a row.Tim Healey can be reached at timothy.healey@ globe.com.
Follow him on Twitter @timbhealey.