GROVELAND — The sideline was notably empty for the Saugus boys’ lacrosse team in advance of its Division 3 North first-round tournament game at Pentucket Regional Tuesday evening.
With seven of the team’s eight seniors suspended for smoking cigars following the school’s graduation ceremonies on Friday night — a violation of the Saugus Public Schools policy that prohibits the use of tobacco products within school buildings or at school-sponsored events — only 12 players were in uniform. The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association also bans tobacco use, including those athletes that have graduated but are still participating in the tournament. One baseball player was also suspended.
Right before the opening faceoff, however, those seven seniors walked onto the field wearing team sweatshirts. They embraced their teammates, then cheered voraciously throughout a 17-3 loss despite sitting in a steady downpour in the first half.
“It was definitely a little different, losing four captains and seven seniors,” said Saugus junior captain Jake Morgante. “There was a lot of leadership that wasn’t out there today.”
While Saugus, the 14th and final seed in the bracket, fell behind, 14-1, at the half, the Sachems showed no quit.
Morgante, who normally plays defense but was forced to play attack with the seniors absent, took the ball coast-to-coast for a goal. And Saugus allowed just three goals in a relatively even second half. The only active senior, Ricky Martinez, switched positions multiple times.
“Guys were playing out of position, but they played their hearts out and that’s all we asked them to do,” said Saugus coach Rob Scuzzarella, who delivered the news of the suspensions to his team on Saturday morning.
“That was the message before the game and I’m really proud of how they played.”
School committee member Elizabeth Marchese said the events Friday and subsequent disciplinary action “are saddening for all involved.” Athletic director James Bunnell declined to comment, and referred the Globe to the superintendent’s office.
“My job for the team is to literally get pelted with balls and that’s nothing compared to how I feel about not being able to play in my last game of my career over a tradition,” goalie Alex DeBrito tweeted.
Senior midfielder Kevin Cucuzza told WBZ that his frustration stemmed from this tradition being tolerated in the past.
“I’ve seen it at every graduation I’ve ever been to,” he said. “Last year the team went to state tournament and they also smoked cigars. Didn’t see a problem then so don’t know why it’s a problem now.
“We thought we were celebrating a big milestone in life, but I guess not.”
He also said that he and his suspended teammates were smoking the cigars out in the open, in front of teachers and administrators.
“No one said anything, and it’s not like we were huddled in a corner doing it,” he added.
Marchese said in a statement to the Saugus Advertiser that overlooking the practice in the past sent mixed messages, which she called “wrong and unfair.”
“Regrettably, this whole situation could have been avoided had an e-mail been sent or announcement been made prior to the commencement of graduation ceremonies reminding everyone of the tobacco use policy, especially in light of past practices,” the statement read.
Robert Divola, whose son is a freshman on the lacrosse team, said in a telephone interview that he was “disappointed” about the situation and that “it was a shock, a total shock.”
Divola said he had not seen the rule enforced in the past.
“My son graduated last year, and there were kids doing it last year, and nothing happened,” he said. “Rules are rules, I understand that, but it wasn’t like they were smoking marijuana or doing drugs.
“It was a celebratory cigar. It’s a big accomplishment graduating high school.
“I don’t think they thought about the consequences.”
Saugus finished the season 8-9 after qualifying for the tournament for the third time in Scuzzarella’s four seasons as head coach.
But the Sachems had not scored three goals in a state tournament game prior to Tuesday.
Senior Connor Melone led Pentucket with five goals and sophomore Nick Lamattina added four.
“The guys played focused, given the circumstances,” said Pentucket coach Dan Leary, whose team advanced to play Dracut Thursday in the quarterfinals.
“They came out and played a pretty complete first half. The energy and effort was there, which is what you want to see.”Staff writers Rachel Bowers and Emily Sweeney also contributed to this report.