By Bill Landon
Looking at the Ward Melville boys’ lacrosse team now, you would never guess that it struggled early in the season.
On Wednesday at Hofstra University, the Patriots scored 16 goals against Section I challenger Lakeland-Panas in the New York State Class A semifinals, to earn them a spot in the championship round Saturday.
“We had our ups and downs this season, which started very quickly,” junior midfielder Dominic Pryor said following the win. “We knew we weren’t doing what we needed to do to play up to our potential, so we had a meeting and we said we have to start playing Ward Melville lacrosse. And that’s what we did tonight.”
Once again, it was junior attack Eddie Munoz who stole the show, scoring five goals in the 16-6 victory. But he too said things started off a little shaky for the Patriots.
“At the beginning of the year, we had trouble finishing,” he said. “That first game against Smithtown West we took 31 shots and scored just one goal, so there’s no excuse for that.”
This time, the team had no problem lighting up the scoreboard.
The Rebels may have hit the the board first, four minutes into the contest, but the Patriots countered with four unanswered goals with less than four minutes left in the opening quarter to take the 4-1 advantage. Pryor, who led the team with six points off a hat trick and three assists, scored twice during that run, while senior attack Chris Grillo found the net off an assist from senior midfielder Owen McAvoy, and senior defender Sean Thornton stretched the net off a feed from Pryor.
“At the beginning of the season you always have the mindset that you’re going to [make it to] states, but early on we weren’t playing at the level,” Grillo said. “As the season progressed we played better and that hope of making it to states became more of a reality.”
Lakeland-Panas countered with two quick goals in the closing minute to cut the deficit to trail by one, and sophomore midfielder Zach Hobbes opened the scoring in the second quarter with a solo shot before a penalty put the Patriots down a player. Lakeland-Panas cashed in on the man advantage to trail 5-4, but Munoz’s stick spoke next when he split the pipes to take a two-goal lead.
“Eddie Munoz comes out and snipes one left, and he’s worked hard at it, and he’s elevated his game,” Negus said.
From there, the Patriots never looked back.
“Our offense works — especially when you’re dodging, you’re banging around the outside because it gets everyone energized and we spread the scoring around,” Munoz said. “Earlier in the season it was tough to find the back of the net, but this game was the best we’ve played all year.”
A loose ball caused a scrum in front of the Rebels’ goalkeeper, and freshman attack Dylan Pallonetti swatted in the ball for a three-goal lead.
Ward Melville outscored Lakeland-Panas 4-1 in the third quarter. Grillo notched two goals during that spurt for the hat trick, and Pryor added his second before assisting on junior attack Andrew Lockhart’s shot.
Munoz drilled home his hat trick goal early in the final quarter to help the Patriots break out to a 12-5 lead.
“It’s un believable what they’re capable of,” Ward Melville head coach Jay Negus said. “We’re trying new things and it’s working.”
Lakeland-Panas managed one more goal in the game, but the Patriots dominated the final period of play.
Pryor finished with his third goal of the game when he did a spin move just outside the crease and drilled his shot past the keeper, and junior Dylan Krieg scored his first goal of the season with the final goal of the game.
“At the beginning we were forcing some shots and I had to keep telling them ‘it’s not the first thing, it’s the best thing’ and that takes experience and maturity. I’m starting to see that,” Negus said. “They’re buying into the game plan and early in the season we didn’t know our team’s identity. But I’ve seen some flashes of brilliance throughout the playoffs.”
Ward Melville will face Section V’s Victor High School on June 11 at Middletown High School at 4 p.m.