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Brian Herber

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Patriots avenge 11-10 loss to Smithtown East in 2015 Class A finals

 

Being down 5-1 in the Suffolk County Class A finals didn’t scare the Patriots — it fueled them.

According to senior Eddie Munoz, Ward Melville coaches say lacrosse is a game of runs, and all the team needed was a run to get back in it.

So Ward Melville’s Zach Hobbes scored twice in a four-run spurt across the end of the first half and beginning of the second, and Munoz capped it off with an unassisted goal to tie the game, en route to a 9-8 win for Ward Melville over Smithtown East May 31.

“Down 5-1 is tough to come back from, but we made our run at the right time,” Munoz said. “And we didn’t stop.”

After senior Mike Marino scored off an assist from senior Mike Latini for Smithtown East, Munoz was quick to help tie it up again, when he scored his hat trick goal off a pass from Hobbes. Senior Dominic Pryor scored next off a feed from classmate Andrew Lockhart, but Smithtown East senior Connor DeSimone tied it up for
the Bulls.

DeSimone was held off the scoreboard besides one assist, thanks to Ward Melville senior Andrew McKenna, who was tasked with guarding one of Long Island’s leading goal scorers.

“I know he’s a very good player, but I’ve [gone up against] a lot of good players,” McKenna said. “He’s one of Long Island’s best, but knowing I have a great defense around me and a great goalkeeper behind me in Perry Cassidy made me all the more confident.”

Watching his defenseman lean in to help with a dodge on the next play, Munoz said he decided to step into it, hoping Pryor would find him with a pass. With little time to think, Munoz decided to send the ball to senior Noah Kepes, who finished his shot to put Ward Melville back on top, 8-7.

“When Dom passed the ball, I knew I was a little far out, so I took one glance at the crease in my windup, I saw Noah there and I couldn’t not pass it to him,” Munoz said. “It was a great catch, a great handle and a great finish.”

Senior Jack Purdy tacked on an empty netter for what the Patriots thought would be an insurance goal, but Smithtown East’s Dominic Pizzulli found the netting with 22.1 seconds left, and Ward Melville’s defense was able to hold the Bulls off after senior Brian Herber’s faceoff win.

“We were resilient,” McKenna said. “Down 5-1 we still went out there and competed, gave 100 percent on every play and played good, hard, smart lacrosse.”

He said it’s been a dream ever since he was a kid to make it to this point in his senior year with his longtime Patriots surrounding him, and they agreed.

“We needed to get back here,” Munoz said. “I couldn’t let us lose today. This is a dream come true.”

Ward Melville will play Massapequa in the Long Island Championship June 3 at 10 a.m. at Stony Brook University.

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The East Bulls will battle crosstown foe Smithtown West in semis May 25

By Bill Landon

Being down early doesn’t faze the Smithtown East boys’ lacrosse team. And despite the 4-0 lead visiting Connetquot had in the opening round of the Class AA playoffs May 19, the Bulls bounced back for a 12-10 victory to advance to the semifinals.

Connor Desimone rockets a shot into Connetquot’s goal. Photo by Bill Landon

“That’s kind of been our M.O. this year — we’ve allowed our opponent to jump up on us early in games and these guys have done a good job all year staying together, [being] positive and chipping away at it,” Smithtown East head coach Jason Lambert said. “When we got down 4-0, I said, ‘hey guys, we’ve been here before, we’ve done this before — we’ll come back.’ And with our seniors and the leadership we have here, there’s never panic with this group.”

Smithtown East didn’t find the cage until two minutes into the second quarter, when senior midfielder and co-captain Luke Eschbach slammed home a solo shot. Senior Michael Latini attacked next, with 5:05 left in the first half, to cut the lead in half. Senior faceoff specialist Brian Herber won the ensuing battle at the ‘X,’ and dished the ball to classmate and co-captain Connor Desimone who buried his shot 20 seconds later to pull within one, 4-3.

At the 3:15 mark of the second quarter the Thunderbirds struck again, but so did a lightning bolt, which suspended the game for 30 minutes. Connetquot picked up where it left off when play resumed, to double Smithtown East’s score, 6-3.

“That half hour stop was almost a blessing in disguise,” Lambert said. “It allowed us to gather ourselves, talk to the kids and tell them exactly what we were seeing, and hear what they were seeing.”

Desimone passed to Latini, who on the cut shot the ball behind his back, catching the keeper off guard to make it a 6-4 game.

Brian Herber wins a faceoff and fires at the net. Photo by Bill Landon

“I’ve done it in practice and I’ve never tried it in a game,” Latini said. “But I always wanted to try it, and today, it went in.”

After another Herber faceoff win, Latini scooped up the flick, and senior Dominic Pizzulli drilled his shot into the netting as the Bulls trailed 6-5. The four-goal deficit early in the game had little effect on Herber or the rest of his team.

“I was a little nervous,” Herber said. “But I know this team and knew we would definitely come back — we always do.”

With 26 seconds left before the break, Desimone leaped from behind the cage dove in front to bury his shot and make it a new game.

Smithtown East goalkeeper Thomas Harkin, who had eight saves on the day, commended his opponent for the tough battle.

“They brought a lot of ball movement, they moved well inside — they are very good at doing that, but we prepared for that,” Harkin said. “We knew we had to step it up, wake up a bit. We knew the next ground ball, the next pass, the next shot, the next anything, it’s ours.”

Two minutes into the second half, Desimone gave his teammate’s words meaning when he scored his hat trick goal to give his team its first lead, 7-6.

Thomas Harkin makes one of eight saves. Photo by Bill Landon

“Our guys have a ton of heart, starting with our goalie,” Desimone said.

Smithtown East’s lead wouldn’t last long though, as the Thunderbirds scored three unanswered goals for a 9-7 advantage with 2:30 left in the third.

Senior Bobby Burns put an end to the Connetquot rally, and Herber’s faceoff win led to the game-tying goal by senior Mike Marino. Marino tied the game again minutes later, 10-10, and the Bulls’ defense stood strong in the final eight minutes, cutting off all lanes to the cage.

“[Anthony] Voelker played great on [Connetquot junior attack George Wichelns],” Herber said. “He’s a big part of Connetquot’s team and [Brian] Cosgrove was playing great off ball, which really slowed them down.”

Desimone passed to Eschbach for the game-winning goal, and Desimone put the game away soon after.

“It all starts in our cage with our goalie Thomas Harkin — he’s been great all year, and our faceoff kid Brian Herber battling giving us chances, giving us the ball, giving us the opportunity to play offense,” Lambert said. “It was a total team effort, but those two guys, they’re the backbone of our team.”

Smithtown East will face crosstown rival Smithtown West in the semifinals May 25 at 6:30 p.m.

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