These Mad Dogs are showing their teeth.
In a dogfight between two of the top teams in Division I Monday, visiting Ward Melville dominated the beginning of the first half, edging ahead to a 4-1 lead, but the Middle Country girls’ lacrosse team found its groove and bounced back to prove why it’s undefeated.
With the 17-12 comeback win, the Mad Dogs improved to 6-0 to remain in sole possession of first place, while the Patriots dropped to 4-2.
“We have a big week ahead of us so to get one out of the way is a good feeling,” Middle Country head coach Lindsay Dolson said. “We kept our calm. We knew that we could score. We had a bunch of pipes in the first couple of minutes so that took a little wind out of our sails, but they did a great job coming back.”
After Ward Melville jumped out to a 3-0 lead, Middle Country senior midfielder and attack Nikki Ortega scored off a foul for the team’s first point with 15:21 left in the first half.
The Patriots tacked on another goal before Ortega’s younger sister, Jamie, a sophomore midfielder, netted back-to-back goals to pull within one, 4-3.
“We knew that we were down, but we always tell each other not to freak out; to talk to each other,” Jamie Ortega said. “I was frustrated because I knew we were the better team, so us down got me motivated.”
The teams traded goals, and after being down 5-4, Middle Country tied it up 5-5 with 4:39 left until the halftime break.
With the offensive sides strong on both ends of the field, the two teams traded another goal apiece to bring the score to 6-6 at the end of the first, and continued to trade goals until the game was tied 9-9.
From there, the Mad Dogs raced ahead to a 14-9 lead before Ward Melville senior attack Alex Vignona scored from 10 yards out, and followed her showing with an assist, as she passed the ball to sophomore attack Kaitlin Thornton who scored overhead in front of the net to close the gap to 14-11.
Jamie Ortega netted one next, taking the ball all the way up the field and, from the right side, crossing the ball in front of the net and into the left corner with 4:08 remaining in the game. Middle Country scored again, and Ward Melville sophomore midfielder Madison Hobbes scored her team’s final point before Nikki Ortega passed the ball to eighth-grade defender Sophie Alois off a shooting space foul with 16 seconds on the clock, for the final goal of the game.
“We knew this was our time, this was our game and we had to step it up, and that’s what we did,” Middle Country junior defender Jordynn Aiello said. “I knew stepping on this field today we were going to come out with this win no matter what. One thing I love about my team is that we stay calm under pressure; we don’t break.”
While the team ran into trouble winning possession off the draw and the defense struggled with the slides, defenders, like Aiello, forced some crucial turnovers.
Vignona, Nemirov, Thornton, Hobbes and junior attack Holly Regan scored two goals apiece for the Patriots, while sophomore midfielder Hannah Hobbes and senior midfielder Cat Smith rounded out the scoring with a goal each.
“I never thought we’d get this far and I knew that they were going to give us a hard game,” Jamie Ortega said of Ward Melville. “I knew that if we came back and played how we usually play we’d end up on top.”
The sophomore midfielder led the Mad Dogs with six goals while her older sister Nikki finished with four. Sophomore midfielder Amanda Masullo tacked on three goals, while her twin sister Rachel, Alois, senior midfielder Allison DiPaola and sophomore attack Ava Barry added a goal apiece.
“She did a great job,” Dolson said of Jamie Ortega. “I spoke to her before the game and I said ‘Jamie, I feel it. You’re going to have a day today.’ And she did.”
Ortega said her team works well to pass each other the ball and stay connected, and Aiello said Middle Country’s ability to work together should take them far.
“There are no individuals on this field, it’s a team, and everybody has a job on this team and we get it done,” she said. “I have a lot of faith in my team, I believe in us and I believe that if we continue to work on enhancing and perfecting our game, we’ll be unstoppable.”