Jason Lambert told his team to weather the storm.
Not only literally, as rain fell through the thick fog during Smithtown East’s Class A semifinal game May 25 against their in-district rivals, but because he knew that Smithtown West was going to push for a comeback.
East was leading West 7-2 heading into the fourth quarter, and despite West scoring three goals to cut down the margin, Connor DeSimone drained time off the clock, and held it during the final seconds to secure a 7-5 win for East.
The senior said his team knew it had to adopt a different strategy to seal the deal.
“That was definitely the game plan coming in — we were going to hold the ball,” he said. “We knew that if the ball was in our stick, we couldn’t lose. So we didn’t mind holding the ball during five or six minutes of good possession at a time without scoring.”
Lambert said the other main objective was to value the ball, and he liked that his team accomplished that goal — using it to capitalize on early scoring chances.
DeSimone and senior Luke Eschabach went back-to-back with unassisted goals, and then assisted on each other’s shots in East’s 4-1 first quarter.
“We’ve been playing together since we were 5 years old and we always find each other through the field,” Eschbach said. “He knows where I am, I know where he is without even looking, and he always finds the void.”
DeSimone said he knows his longtime teammate’s skills and wants to find him when he can.
“He’s an awesome shooter, a great player, and I know when I find him on the through ball, he’s going to put it in the back of the net like we’ve been doing all year,” he said.
DeSimone said the team was concerned about West’s faceoff man Conor Calderone and goalkeeper Ryan Erler.
“We weren’t letting [Ryan] Erler make the saves, who played great today,” he said, although Erler still made 12 stops, including back to back saves in the game’s final seconds. “I knew possession was crucial. They out-possessed us by two times the amount we had the ball, so knowing that we knew we had to value the ball, we had to take the best shot, not the first shot.”
Both teams went scoreless over a 20-minute span, before DeSimone found senior Dominic Pizzulli.
“We weren’t nervous at all,” DeSimone said of the drought. “It’s one play at a time. We’re not looking for home runs — there’s no superheroes on the team — if we all look out for each other and play team ball it’s going to be hard to beat us.”
Danny Riley scored twice for West, sandwiched around a goal by Jimmy Caddigan, to make it 7-5 with 7:23 left.
“We just had to make sure to manage their comeback and not give them all the momentum,” Lambert said.
West’s Brian Herber won the ensuing faceoff, and East went back to draining the clock.
“Sometimes we have letdowns, but this team knows we have ups and downs, and every single person on this team never gives up on each other,” Eschbach said. “We always stay positive, so when we lose a couple of ground balls, get a flag here and there to go a man down, we always come back and pull through.”
DeSimone said he was most excited to avenge last season’s semifinal loss to Connetquot, and is just happy to have another day of practice. Eschbach said he’d love nothing more than another county championship win over Ward Melville, like the Bulls had two years ago.
“I wanted to get here so bad my senior year,” he said. “We need to possess the ball — not throw it away — and play strong defense. If our defense plays the way it did today, I think we’ll have a very strong shot at taking that game.”
Smithtown East will face Ward Melville May 31 at Stony Brook University at 3 p.m. The winner will move on to the Long Island championship game at Stony Brook University June 3 at 10 a.m.