Ryan Pallonetti wasn’t missing the game this time, and he made his presence known.
The Ward Melville senior scored three goals in the Patriots’ 15-2 win over West Genesee for the school’s second straight state title June 9. He’d missed all last year and half his sophomore season with a knee injury.
“We’re unselfish, move the ball well and take smart shots, always looking for the extra pass to get the easy goal.”
— Matt Grillo
“Ryan’s an incredible player,” said classmate Zach Hobbes of Pallonetti, who scored the first two goals and assisted on the third to get the game going. “It was great seeing him play the way he did today since he didn’t get the opportunity to last year.”
A familiar yet different narrative developed in this season’s finale compared to last. Ward Melville had eked out a 10-9 win against Pittsford after scoring six straight, the final coming in overtime. Matt Grillo scored the final two goals of the game, which was on his birthday, and rose to the occasion once more this time around. The senior (four goals, one assist) went on another scoring run to propel his team this year, finding the net three straight times in the third to help extend Ward Melville’s halftime advantage from eight goals to 12.
The lopsided result in the final was out of the ordinary, although it followed the Patriots’ landslide victory in the state semifinal, an 18-2 win over Niskayuna.
West Genesee has won 15 state championships, the most in New York history, under head coach Mike Messere, the nation’s all-time leader in career victories with 846. Ward Melville, ranked No. 1 in the country by Inside Lacrosse, split six previous championship-game matchups with West Genesee, the last in 2013, a 16-4 victory under former legendary head coach Mike Hoppey. Current head coach Jay Negus won his first last year.
“Ryan’s an incredible player. It was great seeing him play the way he did.”
— Zach Hobbes
“I have to credit my defense for getting me ready for every game,” said Grillo, who ranks sixth in the county in scoring with 70 goals and 16 assists. “Even in practice, it’s the best defense I’ll have to face all year. They played amazing as usual to hold a very good team to just two goals. On the offensive end, jumping out to an early lead is something we’ve tried to consistently do all season. To see us execute like we did on our biggest stage is something really special.”
The Patriots defense made multiple stops to give Ward Melville plenty of opportunities in transition. Hobbes and junior Malachy McAvoy each racked up two goals and four others added goals.
“It took a lot of stress out of the game knowing that we maintained a lead all four quarters,” Hobbes said. “When you build a lead that early in a game it gives the team a lot of confidence, and we have a lot of experience in playoff games. It’s an unreal feeling winning back-to-back championships — it’s something every team works for every season, and we were able to do it twice — especially winning it with my best friends. We’ve worked for this moment.”
“I have to credit my defense for getting me ready for every game. Even in practice, it’s the best defense I’ll have to face all year.”
— Matt Grillo
Grillo credited Ward Melville’s unique bond as helping the boys claim the program’s 10th state title and third in the last six years. The Patriots became just the second school to reach the double-digit title mark. It was Ward Melville’s 15th trip to the finals.
“It really helps with our dynamic,” he said of his bond with his teammates. “We had everyone contributing. We’re unselfish, move the ball well and take smart shots, always looking for the extra pass to get the easy goal.”
Grillo said his younger self dreamed of playing for Ward Melville, recalling standing on the sidelines beaming, hoping he’d one day take the place of the athletes he was watching with eyes wide open.
“I always give it my all in every practice, every game,” Grillo said. “So many great players have come through this program and built it up to what it is now, and it’s an amazing feeling knowing we were able to continue the Ward Melville lacrosse legacy. This has been a ride I’ll never forget.”
The senior added after each success and milestone that he and Hobbes would look at each other and say: “our younger selves would be proud of what we accomplished.”