The Panthers pounced early, and despite letting their advantage slip away, the Miller Place boys’ lacrosse team came away with a 7-4 win over Westhampton Beach Monday to improve to 11-2 in League III.
“Westhampton came here and they always play us tough,” Miller Place head coach Keith Lizzi said. “They come in, they run a tough defense and they had us thinking and trying to do different things every possession, but we were able to score in spurts and pull away at the end.”
The first spurt came in the opening minutes of the first quarter. Miller Place senior midfielder and co-captain Brendan Callahan stuffed the ball in, less than a minute into the game, off an assist from senior midfielder and co-captain Thomas Liantonio. Just 30 seconds later, the team did it again. This time, sophomore midfielder Kevin Gersbeck scored off an assist from junior attack Chris Nielsen.
Next, it was senior attack and co-captain Jake Buonaiuto’s turn, when he scored unassisted for an early 3-0 lead.
Miller Place’s defense drove Westhampton to take difficult shots as the Panthers surrounded their opponents and forced turnovers, but with 5:56 left in the quarter, Westhampton put its first point on the board.
Liantonio scored a goal of his own next, after Buonaiuto picked up an offensive rebound and passed it out and across the field to the senior midfielder, who whipped it in for the 4-1 advantage to end the first 12 minutes of play.
“The quick goals were definitely a good momentum booster, but we didn’t really take it and run with it,” Liantonio said. “We stalled out.”
Forced turnovers and saves by Westhampton’s goalkeeper, who made 13 during the match, kept Miller Place scoreless in the second, while the Hurricanes tacked on one goal to cut the Panthers’ lead to 4-2, heading into the halftime break.
“In the opening minutes we came out hot and then we kind of settled in,” Lizzi said. “Their defense settled in I think, too, and it was just trying to figure each other out offensively and defensively.”
Westhampton was able to get the ball rolling, and in the opening minutes of the third stanza, the team scored two quick goals to tie the game, 4-4.
Miller Place won faceoffs and scooped up some ground balls, but bad passes that bounced out of bounds helped the Hurricanes regain possession.
“We got a little complacent,” Buonaiuto said. “We thought we could just score, score, score, but obviously, that didn’t happen. We just needed to relax, find and get back into our rhythm, and find our way, which we did.”
With 5:45 left in the third, Buonaiuto, from behind the cage, passed the ball to Gersbeck in front, whose shot was saved by the goalkeeper, but bounced back behind the net. Buonaiuto scooped it up and again passed it in front to Gersbeck, whose shot hit its mark this time, for a 5-4 advantage.
Miller Place made a few big saves to preserve the lead heading into the fourth, and the Panthers held the Hurricanes scoreless, while Buonaiuto and Liantonio connected for another goal. This time, Liantonio assisted after scooping up a ground ball in the Panthers’ zone and taking it all the way up the field before passing to Buonaiuto, who rocketed his shot into the back of the cage. With 2:51 left to play, Nielsen connected with Gersbeck for the final score of the game, and Gersbeck’s hat trick goal.
Junior goalkeeper Jake Bowrosen finished with seven saves, while classmate Joe Kessler made five.
“Defensively, we really had a good game I thought,” Lizzi said. “Both goalies played excellent and [senior] Christian Stalter played great at the faceoff ‘X.’”
With two regular-season matchups left before the playoffs, the Panthers will first travel to Harborfields Friday at 4:45 p.m. and follow by hosting Elwood-John Glenn on Tuesday, May 12, at 4:30 p.m. Miller Place is looking to take wins and momentum into the postseason.
“Our fundamentals weren’t there — passing and catching, we didn’t clear the ball well, didn’t catch, threw the ball out of bounds a lot and had a lot of turnovers today,” Liantonio said. “Every guy here brings something different to the team. We need to play a full game, cut down the turnovers and try to find a way to win.”