By Steven Zaitz
L.I.C. is not supposed to stand for Long Island Cakewalk, is it?
That’s exactly what it looked like in the first few moments of the Long Island Boys High School Lacrosse Championship game June 4, as the Northport Tigers raced out to a 3-0 lead in the opening 79 seconds against Nassau champ Port Washington.
With three easy wins at the dot by face-off specialist extraordinaire Tyler Kuprianchik, Tigers Jack Deliberti, Tim Kirchner and Will Murphy were able to slice through and plunder the Viking defense and score three quick ones on beleaguered Port Washington goalie Bradley Hamroff, not two minutes after the singing of the National Anthem.
With a start like this, it appeared that it was safe for the Tigers to start packing up the team bus for the drive up to Albany for the New York State Championship semi-final.
Not so fast.
“We knew coming in it was going to be a whistle-to-whistle kind of game,” said Head Coach Larry Cerasi, now the proud owner of two consecutive Long Island Championships in his first two years as head man at Northport. “We got off to a fast start, but they are an extremely well-coached team, and we knew it was going to be an all-day battle.”
The Vikings did battle. But the strong opening, a dominating 4th quarter, and unlikely heroes stepping into the breach secured a 13-9 win for Cerasi’s men.
Hamroff would settle down and make several good saves in the first quarter including a straight-on rip from Tiger Midfielder Dylan McNaughton. When Henry Haberman, the Viking’s most lethal attacker, scored his second goal with less than a minute to go in the opening quarter, it was suddenly 4-3.
Put that cake back in the display case.
“We played from behind all season and came back to win a bunch of games, so we never panicked,” said Hamroff, who totaled 18 saves on this hot afternoon in Uniondale. “We knew that we were going to give up goals because the had a big advantage at the faceoff X, but we never once thought we were out of it.”
All year, that faceoff X has been where dreams go to die, and momentum snuffed for Tiger opponents. Kuprianchik won an incredible 80% of his previous faceoffs and would dominate Viking draw-man Alex Papagalis 21-4, good for 87.5%. What makes Kuprianchik’s feat of strength even more wondrous was the fact that he was playing on a sprained foot; an injury that forced him to miss a portion of the Suffolk County final game against Smithtown East.
“I love this team so much. I would do anything for this team, so I went out there and gave the best performance that I could,” said Kuprianchik, who will be attending Penn State in the fall. “I was really feeling it today and was able to win a lot of them (faceoffs) clean.”
For his efforts, Kuprianchik was awarded the James C. Metzger award for the second year in a row. This goes to the Most Valuable Player of the Long Island Championship game. Kuprianchik had a similar performance last year in the Tiger’s heart-pounding, 11-10 win over Syosset.
“It’s such an honor to win this award,” said Kuprianchik. “But we won this game as a team.”
The Tigers did get contributions from all positions, all over the field. Kirchner led the Tigers with three goals and an assist and fellow midfielder Jack Helrigel had two goals, including one of the most important tallies of the afternoon.
After withstanding Northport’s initial blitzkrieg, Port Washington scratched and clawed their way into tying it at 7-7 with three straight goals towards the end of the third quarter. Port Washington Attacker Gavin Jacobsen would rifle one past Tiger Goalkeeper Luke Lamendola with 45 seconds left in the period to get the game even for the first time the since the opening whistle.
It wouldn’t stay even for long.
Helrigel would drive to the net, take a brilliant, lightning-quick centering feed from Murphy, and fling the ball past Hamroff from five feet away with 8.8 seconds to go in the third. It was now 8-7 and the Tigers would never again relinquish the lead.
“That goal gave us the final push that we needed,” said the senior Helrigel. It gave us the lead back and also the confidence and momentum to put the game away.”
The Tigers won the fourth quarter 5-2 to do just that. Quinn Reynolds, who plays defense, midfield and attack, opened the final quarter by streaking up the center seam and firing it past Hamroff only 12 seconds in. It was 9-7 and Northport would trade a few goals with Port Washington and whittle down the clock to another championship.
“I’m so proud of guys, our coaches and everyone that supports us,” said Cerasi. “We pride ourselves on being well-balanced and today we got contributions from our attack, and we got contributions from our midfielders in the transition game. Also, our defense and goaltender played extremely well. Port Washington double-teamed Mike (Meyer) for much of the game, so our other guys, like Kirchner, Murphy and Helrigel stepped up.”
Meyer, who was second in Suffolk to Mt. Sinai’s Joey Spallina in total points and a shoo-in for All American, had a goal and 3 assists on the day. It was up to guys like Kirchner, who is also a cross-country star, to find the twine. He was a marauder, with and without the ball, for the entire game; and perhaps the stamina he has honed as a long-distance runner paid dividends in the Hofstra Heat.
“I made good use of my endurance advantage to use today,” said Kirchner. “I love to run up on offense and back on defense and I’ve been playing with a lot of confidence as the season has gone along.”
Goalkeeper Lamendola has also played with confidence as the competition has gotten stiffer.
Port Washington launched assault after assault in a desperate attempt to slice off pieces of the Tiger lead. He made six saves in total and was effective in cutting down angles and standing tall in the face of the pressurized heat in the front of his net. Lamendola, who also starred on the Tiger football team and will study film and animation at The Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, was very animated when the final horn sounded, as he was at the epicenter of a hugging, jumping, glove-throwing and victorious pack of Tigers.
“We have a lot of talent on this team,” said Lamendola. “I couldn’t do it without my teammates and my coaches and of course my dad. It’s more of a mental game more than a physical in the net and Coach (Dean) Spadaro has taught every aspect of being a goalie since I was 8 years old.”
Coach Spadaro, whose son Kieran registered an assist in the game, has been coaching many of these boys since kindergarten. He knew Lamendola, who follows in the footsteps of goaltending legend Andrew Tittmann, has what it takes to succeed at this level.
“Nobody will ever outwork Luke”, said Spadaro. “Ninety percent of goaltending is between the ears and Luke is smart goalie with great instincts and I’m so happy for him and this team.”
The Tigers, who have now won 19 straight games after an opening day loss to non-conference foe Mt. Sinai, can now move on and think about their semi-final game at SUNY Albany vs. the Scarsdale Raiders who have a record of 14-7 on the year. After last summer’s L.I.C., they did not get a chance to play for a New York State title, as that tournament was not played because of the pandemic.
“Last year was phenomenal, but after the Long Island Championship game against Syosset, we had sort of an empty feeling and we wanted more,” said Cerasi. “As a group we are extremely happy to get an opportunity to play for a state championship this year.”
Cerasi and the Tigers will get it and it is now safe to pack up that bus.