Patriots defeat Walt Whitman in semifinals, 9-3, to make it back to final round
The game may not have started off the way they wanted, but it sure did end like it.
The No. 4 Ward Melville boys’ lacrosse team turned a no-score first-quarter Wednesday into a 4-1 halftime lead, and held No. 8 Walt Whitman scoreless until the final seconds of the game, earning a trip back to the Suffolk County Class AA finals with a 9-3 win.
“We’re really excited,” junior midfielder Dominic Pryor said. “We worked so hard for this all season and we can’t wait for counties.”
After the first, senior attack and midfielder Connor Grippe said his team knew it needed to figure out a way to turn things around.
“The first quarter we didn’t play Ward Melville lacrosse,” he said. “Our coaches keep preaching to us to play a full four quarters and we really came back and put it all together. We were hitting our shots, we were moving the ball, our defense played outstanding, our goalie D.J. Kellerman played a hell of a game and we won the faceoffs.”
Grippe said the coaches made some adjustments to the Patriots’ pre-existing zone plays, which helped them get some open shots and inside looks.
Ward Melville head coach Jay Negus credits his assistant coaches Chris Murphy and Chris Muscarella for the turnaround.
“The defense has been outstanding, the faceoffs have been outstanding — and it’s because of them and the kids buying into what they’re talking about,” he said. “Our offense did a nice job once they started clicking to relieve some of that pressure, but I’m so appreciative of the two assistant coaches I have because they really, on the defensive end of the field, do an outstanding job.”
Junior goalkeeper Kellerman made two saves in the first, and tipped another shot upward to open the second. At the 8:18 mark the Patriots’ opponent finally found the back of the cage for a 1-0 lead.
The Patriots’ intensity was there in the first, but it didn’t match that of the Wildcats. On top of that, dropped passes in the offensive zone and turnovers all over the field deflated the team. But that all changed in the second quarter.
The Patriots pride themselves on their defense, and the boys held it down on that end of the field following the first goal.
At the 4:35 mark, the offense repaid the defense for its hard work, when Grippe fired a shot from 10 yards out to tie the game. He then assisted freshman attack Dylan Pallonetti on his shot from the same position, but on the opposite side of the cage.
“Once we got one, we rallied from there,” Pallonetti said. “I feel like we did a great job riding and clearing. Our defense did great. They stripped the ball a lot, got the ball in the offensive zone and then we did our job.”
At the 1:51 mark, Pryor snagged a rebound off a save in mid-air and buried the ball for a 3-1 lead.
“As soon as we figured out their defense, we started putting in goals and that’s really when we started rolling and knew what we needed to do the rest of the game,” he said.
Junior attack Andrew Lockhart forced a turnover and, on a fast break, fed the ball to Pallonetti in front of the net for what proved to be the game-winner to end the scoring for the first half.
Grippe added two more assists on the night, Pryor scored his second goal and Lockart, Eddie Munoz, Chris Grillo and Zach Hobbes each added a goal. With 33 seconds left, Walt Whitman managed to score back-to-back goals but ran out of time to make a comeback.
“Last year we unfortunately lost in the counties in double overtime, so anything for us to get back to that position is great, and hopefully we’ll come out on top,” Grippe said.
Ward Melville is back in a familiar position, but this time faces a new opponent. Smithtown East topped the Patriots last season, but since the Bulls fell to Connetquot in overtime in the their semifinal game on Wednesday, Ward Melville will instead be facing that team, to whom they lost twice in overtime the last two seasons.
“I definitely think we will have to adjust,” Grippe said. “It’s a revenge game for us. We’re always fired up to play them, they’re a big rival and it should be a good game.”
He said their faceoff player is arguably one of the best in the county, so his team will need to game plan to stop him and limit transitions.
Negus said his team will be prepared for its June 1 matchup at Stony Brook University at 8 p.m. against what will be an athletic, strong opponent.
“We can’t take them lightly, and we’ll be ready,” he said. “They don’t have a lot of depth, but we’re watching them on film and we’ll continue to look for their tendencies. We have some tricks up our sleeve. As a No. 4 seed a lot of people were looking past us and when we execute on both sides of the ball we can be a very dangerous team.”