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Michael Giaquinto

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By Bill Landon

Ward Melville’s boys lacrosse team swallowed a bitter pill April 18 when the Patriots suffered their only loss of the season, 7-6, loss to Half Hollow Hills East. The No. 1-seeded Patriots had their chance to avenge that loss going up against the No. 3 Thunderbirds in the Class A county championship Wednesday, and did so in convincing fashion.

Behind junior Dylan Pallonetti’s five goals, Ward Melville won 14-5 at Islip High School May 30.

“We remembered that feeling when we lost to them — we weren’t going to let that happen again,” Pallonetti said. “We came out with some fire, put some goals in and never really let them take the game away. For now, we’ll practice hard, study Massapequa and keep the train rolling.”

Ward Melville (18-1) will face Massapequa (17-1) in the Long Island championship at 12:30 p.m. June 2 at Hofstra University.

Pallonetti said finding out that Ward Melville moved up to No. 1 in the nation, according to Inside Lacrosse, gave the Patriots a little extra juice.

It gave him some extra motivation, too, scoring a hat trick in the first half to turn a 5-4 first quarter advantage into a 7-4 halftime lead.

Half Hollow Hills East’s Mike Gomez found the back of the cage early in the third to close within two, but it was as close as the Thunderbirds would come the rest of the way. Ward Melville goalkeeper Collin Krieg (5 saves) said even with a nine-goal lead you can never get too comfortable in the game of lacrosse.

“Obviously we came out with more intensity today thinking we [shouldn’t have lost to them] in the first place,” Krieg said. “Yeah, we were ahead by nine, but to be honest you never know — that team can easily put up a bunch of points. I never like to count my chickens before they hatch.”

Having a potent Patriots offense on the other side of the field though didn’t hurt.

Eight different Ward Melville players scored, five finding the cage over a 4:30 span in the first quarter alone for a 5-1 lead before Half Hollow Hills East responded with three straight. Senior Matt Grillo added three on the day and seniors Zach Hobbes and Michael Giaquinto tacked on a goal and an assist apiece.

Ward Melville, which has now outscored opponents 204-75 this season, bring home the school’s third straight county crown and 26th overall in 40 appearances in the title game.

“We knew it was going to be a tough game — they played us hard the first time — but tonight we wanted revenge,” Grillo said. “It’s always nice to get another win, add some more hardware to the Ward Melville legacy.”

Malachy McAvoy adds four goals and two assists, Michael Giaquinto goes 20-for-20 on faceoffs

A Northport defender gets trips trying to keep up with Matt Grillo as he races around the goal. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Each player brings something to the table for Ward Melville, be it Michael Giaquinto’s crafty faceoff wins, Dylan Pallonetti’s swift assists or Ethan Larson’s physical defense. Matt Grillo brought the scoring for the Patriots Tuesday, using his speed and athleticism to put away six goals in the first half of Ward Melville’s 19-5 home win against Northport.

Dylan Pallonetti fires at the cage and scores. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The senior was quick to share the credit.

“Our offense played great today,” said Grillo, as 10 different players got on the scoreboard. “Everyone was moving together, which opened up lanes for me and I was able to capitalize.”

But a performance like he had is something the attack has been working hard for. After senior Malachy McAvoy (four goals, two assists) got things going with back-to-back scores, Grillo put away three straight goals in just 1:37 of game time.

The first came off a flick from Pallonetti. Grillo grabbed the ball for mere milliseconds before rocketing the ball into the netting from 10 yards out. His third goal came when he was caught off guard by a shifting defender, found a diagonal lane toward the right side of the cage and fired over his shoulder and behind his back while he raced past it.

Michael Giaquinto dashes into Northport’s zone after winning a face-off. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“I always try to have a quick, smooth transition from when I receive the ball to when I release it,” Grillo said. “It helps to make what I’m going to do less predictable. I always love to shoot from all different angles and areas of the field. It makes me more dangerous as an offensive player, and I’ve practiced these different shots many times over the years in order to be able to execute them during a game.”

Head coach Jay Negus said his captain’s capabilities don’t surprise him.

“I expect that from him,” Negus said. “He practices hard and spends a lot of time with his stick.”

Pallonetti (two goals, four assists), who helped on McAvoy’s hat trick goal that put Ward Melville (10-1) up 8-0 to end the first quarter, scored what would end up being the game-winning goal at the 3:32 mark of the first quarter.

“We have built a very strong connection,” Grillo said of working with his junior teammate. “We are always looking for each other — helping each other get good looks. Today he did a very good job of keeping his eyes up and moving in, once he drew the slide, which really helped our offense out.”

Liam Davenport maintains possession as he crosses midfield. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Giaquinto was 20-for-20 on faceoffs, winning possessions early that grew to be crucial when the Patriots’ bench players stepped in to compete in the second half, up 15-0.

“I’ve been real impressed the last three games with how they’ve come out firing right away, been consistent, and that’s something we’ve been preaching to them constantly,” Negus said. “It took us a little while, and it took a loss [7-6 at Half Hollow Hills East April 18] to be a good learning lesson. I was really happy with how we got to the ground balls, the unselfish play and how we were locking it down defensively. Collin [Krieg, seven saves] was great in goal as well as the poles around him. All the guys are putting in hard work and it shows on different days, which is a good thing, but we’ve got to keep pushing to get better because we’re not satisfied with where we’re at right now. We just have to keep getting better every day.”

Ward Melville hosts Sachem North May 4 at 4:15 p.m. before traveling to Smithtown East May 8 at 4:30 p.m. The Patriots wrap up the regular season with a May 10 contest at Riverhead at 4:15 p.m.

Ward Melville to face Smithtown East in Suffolk championship May 31

As the crowd and sideline erupted over a stretch of three minutes in the third quarter, it seemed like the Patriots couldn’t miss.

In fact, they didn’t, as the Ward Melville’s boys’ lacrosse team scored six times on six shots during that span, on the way to a 15-6 Class A semifinal win over Half Hollow Hills East May 25.

“We’ve been here before, and we were pumped up,” junior Zach Hobbes said. “We knew we had to come out fired up, because there was a chance we were going to go home.”

An early ouster from the playoffs seemed like a remote possibility coming into the game for two-loss Ward Melville, after Hills East gave the Patriots all they could handle in a triple overtime, 8-7 thriller during the regular season, but the second-half scoring spurt erased that possibility. Hobbes found the back of the net for the first of the six goals, which was his third of the game. Junior Matt Grillo scored twice to complete his hat trick, and junior Michael Giaquinto also scored twice, directly off faceoff wins.

“We played more unselfish,” Grillo said. “Last time we played them, we had a lot of individuals doing their stuff, and this time we looked for the open man, and it worked.”

The Patriots were riding a 6-2 halftime advantage into that 6-0 run. The last goal of the second quarter fired up Grillo and senior Eddie Munoz, inspiring the team to come out even quicker after the break.

Grillo intercepted a Hills East pass attempt by the goalkeeper, and with Kyle Bockelman outside of his posts, Grillo saw the opportunity at an empty-netter with Munoz at his side.

“I saw the rusty pass and I ran over to pick it off,” Grillo said. “Eddie’s always there to put it in, and I knew he was going to finish.”

Giaquinto, who split 10 faceoffs in the first half, won seven of eight in the third, and got lower on the draw to help him win 18 of 25 faceoffs overall in the game.

“I give Michael Giaquinto a lot of credit,” Hobbes said. “Those possessions were key.”

Munoz said his teammates have been hearing all season long how they’re the next resilient bunch to vie for the state championship, and he said he knew the next step toward getting back to where the Patriots were last year wasn’t too far out of reach.

“To be so close to another county championship — we needed to win,” he said. “Our drive is what got us here, and our confidence is through the roof, but you can’t be too cocky. We’re soaking it in, enjoying the moment, but once we get on that bus — get back to the school — we have work to do. It’s all about staying focused.”

Ward Melville will face Smithtown East May 31 at Stony Brook University at 3 p.m. with a chance for redemption. The Bulls halted the Patriots’ playoff push two years ago, with an 11-10 county final victory.

“We feel we have a standard to uphold at Ward Melville,” Hobbes said. “We need to get back to where we were last year, and take that title this time. We’re ready to play.”

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