Redemption was sweet for the Ward Melville boys’ lacrosse team.
Not only did the Patriots take down the boys of Smithtown East, who knocked them out of the playoffs in the Suffolk County Class A finals last season, but they also handed the Bulls their first loss of this season, 13-12.
Smithtown East was 7-0 coming into the contest, with one of the strongest faceoff kids in the county in senior Gerard Arceri, and two of the leading goal scorers in junior Connor Desimone and senior Dan Rooney. But that didn’t scare Ward Melville.
“We had that loss to West Islip [9-7 on April 8], which was one of our down games, but we knew we had to come back fired up,” Ward Melville goalkeeper D.J. Kellerman said.
“We knew that they were one of the top teams and we really wanted to take them down.”
The Patriots, 7-1, scored three goals in the first seven minutes of play before Rooney, an attack, found the back of the net with 3:09 left in the first quarter to put his team on the board.
“They’re a rival of ours — they’re right across town from us, so obviously intensity and competitiveness is at an all time maximum,” Smithtown East’s Desimone, an attack, said. “Coming out here and not showing up in the first half really killed us, but we’ll get them back.”
Rooney followed his goal with his second score of the afternoon, off an assist from junior attack Michael Latini, and junior midfielder Luke Eschbach helped bring the score to 3-3 at the end of the first.
“Obviously Connor Desimone and Dan Rooney, they’re very dangerous, so we did a couple of game-planning strategies for them, but our goalie D.J. Kellerman played outstanding,” Ward Melville head coach Jay Negus said. “We’ve been waiting to play all four quarters all year, and this is the first game that I really feel we did. I don’t like taking my foot off the gas pedal, and that showed today, too. We played quick. I thought we did a good job of managing the game and really dictating the terms to them.”
Despite Arceri winning the opening faceoff of the second stanza, Kellerman still stopped a diving attempt by Desimone in the crease, and Ward Melville senior attack Chris Grillo faked out Smithtown East junior goalkeeper Thomas Harkin and dumped the ball in up top for a 4-3 edge. Kellerman followed with another stop, one of his 14 saves on the day, to keep his team on top.
The Bulls and Patriots traded scores, but Ward Melville senior midfielder Connor Grippe and junior midfielder Dominic Pryor added two goals in the final two minutes to put the Patriots up 7-4 heading into the halftime break.
“We lost to them in the counties last year, so obviously it’s a significant win for us,” Pryor said. “We moved the ball really well and we were very patient. Our defense stood strong with the amount of times they threw the ball in the crease.”
Ward Melville maintained an 11-9 advantage at the end of the third, but Smithtown East wasn’t going to go down that easily.
Latini opened the final quarter with a quick goal less than a minute in, and although Ward Melville countered, junior midfielder Connor Rowan added his second tally of the afternoon to keep it a one-goal game.
The Bulls gained more time of possession as the game continued, but over the next seven minutes neither team could find the back of the net, as the goalkeepers battled and batted the ball away.
“We won most faceoffs, but couldn’t really take away they’re strong hands on defense, and couldn’t convert on offense,” Desimone said.
Harkin made a save for Smithtown off of Pryor’s initial attempt, but freshman attack Dylan Pallonetti grabbed the rebound in mid air and stuffed it past the keeper for the 13-11 lead. Although the Bulls found themselves down two goals again with minutes remaining, Desimone came through again for his team with another goal off a feed from Latini. Arceri won the final faceoff, but a turnover in the final seconds sealed the Bulls’ fate. The Patriots raced across the field, dropping their sticks and stripping themselves of their gear, and leapt into a pile of victory, smiling from ear to ear.
“We knew that they were going to score goals,” Kellerman said. “We had a feeling it was going to be high scoring, but we scored one more at the end and that’s all that matters. At the faceoff ‘X’ we did a great job neutralizing Gerard Arceri. We weren’t going to win them all, we knew that, but I was confident.”
Ward Melville hosted Riverhead on Wednesday, but results were not available by press time.