It wasn’t the ending the Middle Country girls lacrosse team had hoped for, but the Mad Dogs returned from the trip upstate with a few more firsts for the program.
The team had already nabbed the elusive Suffolk County Class A title with a 13-3 win over Northport, and another first with a Long Island championship crown following a 10-9 edging of Massapequa.
As a result, the Mad Dogs had the opportunity to take their first trip upstate. In the semifinals against North Rockland, the team continued its magical run, and the Masullo twins led the way. Amanda scored six goals and Rachel had four goals and two assists in a decisive 20-7 win at SUNY-Cortland June 9.
“Helping my team win the semifinal game, and doing it along with my twin sister was a great experience, and it made me so proud of my team,” said Rachel Masullo, who added she knew she and her twin had to step up their game in the wake of Jamie Ortega and Ava Barry being face-guarded for much of the game. “Assisting my teammates is also a great feeling though, knowing that I was a part of our push forward on the field.”
She said she enjoyed sharing the moments she and her sister had together on the field, often assisting on each other’s goals.
“It’s easy for me and Amanda to connect on the field, because we’re always together and we know what each other is going to do,” Masullo said. “Making it this far with my team was what we’ve been striving for all these years, and to make it as a senior and to have my best friends by my side made it that much better.”
Amanda Masullo also had words regarding her sister.
“She’s the one that makes me work harder, and be better,” she said. “I’m so grateful for that.”
Although Ortega, the nation’s No. 1 lacrosse prospect who is bound for the University of South Carolina and also became New York’s all-time leading scorer during the Long Island championship win, was the main focus of the North Rockland defense, she still managed to make her presence felt, netting five goals and adding three assists. But the Masullos quickly put Middle Country ahead of North Rockland (18-3).
“We always have plays to get me open,” Ortega said of being heavily guarded. “Usually I can get out of them, so I’m pretty used to it by now.”
Consecutive goals from Amanda Masullo late in the first half pushed the lead to 8-1, including a score in which she picked up a ground ball and sprinted around nearly the entire defense for a close look at the cage. Then, when North Rockland threatened by closing the deficit to four goals at 9-5, Rachel Masullo scored twice to push the lead back to six.
Those two tallies started a run in which Middle Country scored 10 of the final 12 goals. Barry scored each of her three goals in that span. Her second goal gave Middle Country a 16-6 lead with 12:44 remaining, prompting the running clock that comes with a 10-goal advantage.
“Our defense was very strong this weekend,” Rachel Masullo said. “And Jamie, Ava and Jen [Barry, Ava’s younger sister] dominated on the draw, which made it that much easier.”
Following the win, Middle Country battled Pittsford, another team that had yet to win a state title. Ortega sent a rocket shot on a player-up situation for the equalizer late in the game, and won the ensuing draw for the Mad Dogs, who held on for a final shot, but Pittsford’s Michelle Messenger saved a skip-shot with four seconds left to ensure overtime. Middle Country ended up losing, 10-9, in overtime.
“The game’s never over until the buzzer goes off,” said Ortega, who had four goals and an assist and finished her varsity career with 588 points, more than any girls lacrosse player in state history. “We know how fast we can score a goal. It could be 10 seconds.”
The run to tie wouldn’t have been possible without the help of all of the Middle Country starters. Pittsford led 5-2 before a 5-0 run spanning the end of the first half and the beginning of the second, bookended by Ortega goals that gave Middle Country a 7-5 lead. Ava Barry scored twice and assisted on both of Ortega’s goals — the second tied the game — and Sophie Alois, who scored the opening goal of the game, gave the Mad Dogs the lead for the second time, scoring the opening goal of the second half to bring the score to 6-5.
“I think it was a mood changer to score the opening goal of each half,” Alois said. “Our coach always says that energy is contagious, and today, my teammates all created an encouraging and energetic environment that everyone fed off of. I was just happy to add onto it.”
Alois said her team knew the pressure was on, and Pittsford answered with a 4-0 spurt of its own for the 9-7 lead that added extra weight back onto the Mad Dogs’ shoulders.
“We emphasized remaining calm, dodging and moving the ball quickly,” Alois said. “It’s easy to throw the ball away or rush a play when pressure is present. When I got the ball, I knew the importance of every possession. With this in mind, I made sure to fake my shot and place it to ensure a point for my team.”
Rachel Masullo fed Barry to pull within one, 9-8, and Ortega tied things up to force two three-minute overtime sessions. With the game still tied 9-9 at the end of the first three minutes, the teams switched sides, and a Pittsford (20-1) free position shot that was initially saved rolled in with 1:55 left to end the game.
“I think our mentality really helped spark a comeback,” Alois said. “Every timeout or stoppage of play, we all gave each other constant reminders that the game wasn’t over and that anything was possible. We kept playing until the final seconds.”
Following the final seconds, Ortega was still shaken up by the loss.
“I didn’t want my last game ever to represent Middle Country to end like that,” she said. “I just knew my team needed me and I needed to be there for them. Now that it’s over, it feels like a piece of me is gone, but I couldn’t be happier on how far we went and how hard we worked and pushed each other. These last few years have really been a journey.”
After the dust settled, Rachel Masullo said she thought some sloppy plays and minor mistakes contributed to the team’s collapse. Her sister said the team wasn’t used to battling against a tough defense, adding she was disappointed the team couldn’t pull through for who she thought really deserved it.
“No matter how much we were down, or how much time we had left, whether it be 10 minutes or two, our coaches never let us give up,” Amanda Masullo said. “The whole team not only wanted to win for each other, but for them, because they really deserve it. I’m just upset that we couldn’t pull through for them.”
Rachel Masullo said she thought the motivation and determination the team showed in battling back is what Middle Country athletics is all about, and she’s proud of how she’ll be leaving the program.
“This program has made me into not only a better lacrosse player, but a better person all around,” she said. “I won’t ever forget what this team has taught me these past five years, and I definitely made memories that will last a lifetime.”
Amanda Masullo said teams better continue to watch out for Middle Country.
“I’ve seen us go from the team who everyone knew they could beat, the team that would go crazy when we finally won a game, to the team who no other team wanted to play because they were afraid,” she said. “That’s something that amazes me, and thinking about it, it makes me realize that me and the other seniors have something to do with that. I’m grateful to have been able to play alongside these other amazing girls, and I will never forget how far we’ve come, and the history we made along the way.”