At 5 feet, 8 inches tall, goalkeeper Michael Ippoliti is not the imposing figure of a typical lacrosse player.
But in the battle for the Long Island Lacrosse Championship against Northport on Saturday, he might as well have been the 10-foot-high, Great Green Wall of Farmingdale — a wall that stood between the Tigers and their third straight Long Island title.
On one of the largest lacrosse stages in the country, Ippoliti made a ridiculous 14 saves at Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium on the campus of Stony Brook University to deny Northport of this natural hat trick of championship rings as the Dalers topped the Tigers, 5-3. Northport’s mighty offense came into this match averaging 12 goals a game for the season but was stymied time and time again by Ippoliti.
Trailing 2-1 at halftime, Farmingdale scored four straight goals bridging the third and fourth quarter to take a three-goal lead. Superstar Sniper Brendan O’Keefe gave the Dalers the lead for good at 3-2 with nine and a half minutes left in the third, and Jake Norton had two goals late in the fourth to ice it. The rest of the day belonged to the Syracuse-bound Ippoliti.
“It feels great to be Long Island champions,” said Ippoliti, who transferred from St. Dominic High School in Oyster Bay for his senior season. “I was seeing the ball well today and since I’m not the biggest guy, I make up for it with my speed, hands and footwork.”
One dazzling display of footwork came at the end of the second quarter when Northport’s leading scorer, sophomore Jack Deliberti, ripped a shot from 20 yards away that Ippoliti turned away with his right shin. The rebound caromed back to Deliberti and from a sharper angle and 10 yards closer, he burned in another low laser.
But Ippoliti scampered laterally across his crease to kick it away seconds before the horn sounded to end the half. These two saves kept the Tiger lead at one.
Later on in the game, Ippoliti’s quick hands got the better of Northport’s junior attacker Luca Elmaleh, who had seven goals in the three previous playoff games for the Tigers.
With the score knotted at two to start the fourth quarter, Elmaleh was able to turn the corner on All-American Farmingdale defender Trevor Gayron and flash right in front of the net with only Ippoliti in his way. Elmaleh tried to go up high, but the Daler keeper was able to get his stick and shoulder in the way of Elmaleh’s shot — which was from no more than three feet away. O’Keefe would give Farmingdale the lead two minutes later — a lead they would never surrender.
“I wish I threw maybe another fake in there,” said Elmaleh, who had four shots on goal for the game. “But I can’t go back in time. As a team, we have to move forward, practice harder and try again next year.”
Tiger Longstick Midfielder and two-time All American Andrew Miller, who put on a Tiger uniform for the final time in his illustrious high school career, will not have the luxury of another try next year. A two-time Long Island Champion in lacrosse, Suffolk champion in basketball and one of the finest athletes ever to grace the halls of Northport High School will be at pre-med at West Point in the fall. He scored two goals in this game for the Tigers, and he had previous experience watching Ippoliti play.
“We played club lacrosse together and he is very talented,” Miller, who scored two of the three Tiger goals, said of Ippoliti. “It wasn’t him alone though. His defense played well too, and they just outplayed us overall.”
Ippoliti didn’t forget about his supporting cast either.
“My defensemen played incredibly well today, and I couldn’t have done it without them,” said Ippoliti. “I have to make the saves but it’s those guys executing the game plan that puts us all in a position to win.”
This was the first Long Island title for the proud Farmingdale Lacrosse program since 2011. They won the New York State Title that year as well. They will travel to Albany to play Scarsdale in the New York State semi-final and if they win that one, they will come back to the island next weekend to play at Hofstra for the state crown.
Larry Cerasi, who in his third year as Tiger head coach was bidding for his third straight Long Island Championship, coached Northport in that Hofstra title game last year and lost to upstate Baldwinsville. Despite not earning an invitation to Albany this year, he still feels the 2023 season was a success.
“We lost a lot of firepower from last year and we still went a long way,” said Cerasi. “Winning Suffolk County and getting to the Long Island Championship game is an incredible achievement and it sets us up nicely for next year.”
As Michael Ippoliti will be in Syracuse by then, Cerasi and his guys, if they are lucky enough to be in this position again, may need not run through a wall to win it.