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Norhtport boys lacrosse

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By Steven Zaitz

A pop-up lightning storm rumbled through James M. Shuart Stadium on the campus of Hofstra University on Saturday afternoon.

Nobody had predicted it.

For the Northport Tigers boys lacrosse team, it was not the most shocking thing to happen to them during their New York State Championship Class A game against upstate Baldwinsville.

Riding a 20-game winning streak, including two 13-9 post-season victories earlier in the week over Port Washington and Scarsdale, the Tigers were stunned by the Bees 10-7, losing for the first time since March, dashing their dreams of New York State supremacy.

Baldwinsville, a hamlet of about 8,000 that sits a few miles northwest of Syracuse, took a quick 2-0 lead midway through the first quarter as the unforeseen rain gained strength. A flash of lightning and a clap of thunder later, the officials were compelled to stop the game after only eight minutes of play.

An opportunity for the Tigers to wrest momentum? No.

Baldwinsville senior Midfielder Trey Ordway ripped one past Tiger Goalkeeper Luke Lamendola just moments after the 37-minute weather stoppage. Beekeeper Nicholas Cary then stopped Northport sniper Tim Kirchner from point-blank range with under a minute to go in the bifurcated first quarter. B’ville came down and scored again to beat the buzzer on a spectacular goal by junior Middie Carson Dyl. The Bees had a 4-0 lead, and Northport had officially been punched in the mouth.

“The quick start was huge for us and getting two more after the delay was even more important,” said Baldwinsville Head Coach Matthew Wilcox, B’ville class of 2004. “It continued the momentum that we had established. During the storm, I was about to go into the locker-room and remind everyone to stay focused, but it turns out I didn’t need to, because I heard a bunch of our leaders yelling this to the troops already. It’s a testament to the great leadership we have on this team.”

Across the way, the Tigers were merely looking to get their heads above water.

“We didn’t play our best game, that’s for sure,” said Northport Head Coach Larry Cerasi. “We had way too many turnovers, many of which were unforced, and against a team like that, you’re not going to win — plain and simple.”

But Northport, whose quick-strike transition game was hampered by not only the swarming Bee defense but also by the wet conditions, slowly gained its footing and crept back into the match. The Tigers’ championship D.N.A. wouldn’t have had it any other way — especially in a high-stakes game such as this.

Michael Meyer, the Tigers scoring leader and captain, had a long-pole defensemen, or a double team, marking him for most of the game. But he finally cracked the honeycomb with a beautiful dodge and dive that beat Cary from just outside the crease with seven minutes left in the half. It was Meyer’s only goal of the day on 10 shot attempts. Freshman Jack Deliberti scored two and a half minutes later to make it 4-2. The pendulum was creaking its way ever so slightly towards the Blue and Gold, but how far would it go and for how long?

Baldwinsville would provide the answers.

After gaining control of the ensuing faceoff, Wilcox called a timeout. Whatever he said in the huddle must have worked.

Bee Attacker Ryan Quinn hit a cutting Ryan Hollenbeck with a perfect pass from behind the net to make it 5-2 with 1:29 remaining before half. Another Bee faceoff win by Jacob Czyz, who all day long played all-world FOGO Tyler Kuprianchik to a virtual stalemate at the dot, led to Dyl marching down the middle of the field unmolested to fire it past Lamendola. It restored B’ville’s four-goal lead and served as a giant-sized exclamation point for a dominating half of lacrosse.

“We were just trying to push some transition before the end of the half,” said Dyl. “I made a cut, Tucker (Macknik) made a great pass to me in the middle, and I buried it. The feeling is indescribable. It’s like a dream come true!”

Not for Northport.

For a wet and weary Tiger Nation, the afternoon was turning into a major buzzkill — exacerbated by the fast-spreading news of the mighty Lady Tigers’ loss in their State Championship game earlier in the day — at the hands of Baldwinsville’s Lady Queen Bees.

Despite the gloom and doom vibe, there was still a half remaining for Cerasi’s bunch. They had seen rain before. They had been behind in at least a half-dozen games this season that they came back to win and a four-goal deficit in lacrosse is far from insurmountable.

“We’ve been in all different situations this year and it’s not the first time we’ve had to dig ourselves out of a hole,” Cerasi said. “We could have easily folded after the first half, but we have a team of guys that always battles to the end and that’s what we did.”

Dyl scored his third of the game in the first minute of the second half putting Northport five goals in arrears. The Tigers’ climb was getting steeper.

But senior Attacker Jacob Starcke sliced not one but two goals off the lead within the next three minutes. Then Kuprianchik wandered upfield after winning a draw, picked up a loose ball and bounced it past Cary and the comeback was on. It was 7-5 after three quarters of play.

“We had a lot of mental mistakes and turnovers, but we started to rev it up as the game progressed,” said Northport’s all-star long pole midfielder Andrew Miller.

But in the final quarter of their final game, the mistakes and turnovers would resurface. Baldwinsville had a lot to do with it, buzzing around passing lanes and quickly rotating double-teams on every Tiger attacker with the ball on his stick.

“Our defense and goaltending played a great game and a complete game,” said Wilcox. “Austin McClintic did a really good job on Meyer and our longstick Midfielder, Brayden Penafeather-Stevenson has been negating the opposition’s best middie all year. And of course, Nick Cary made some huge saves at big moments of the game and did a great job of clearing the ball.”

Cary made nine stops and forced many other Tiger shot attempts to be off target with solid positioning and footwork.

“I was seeing the ball really well,” Cary said. “Our coaches did a great job preparing us for this moment and our defense gave me the shots that I wanted to see.”

He would soon see his team go up by three with the clock now very much becoming a factor. After a great save by Cary, Bee attacker Colin Doyle streaked up the right sideline and got past defenseman Jack Breckling to score the first goal of the fourth quarter. It came with only six minutes to go and put the Bees up 8-5. It was the backbreaker for Northport.

Baldwinsvillle’s high-octane Attacker Keegan Lynch, who netted the very first goal of the game, closed the scoring with six seconds left to make it 10-7. Lynch, a junior, took a hard hit from Northport’s Will Flynn just as he released the shot and stayed down on the wet turf for several minutes. He walked off under his own power but sustained a concussion on the play.

“There is no better feeling than winning this championship,” said Lynch, whose last-second tally gave him exactly 40 goals and 100 points on the year. “I would take getting hit like that 100 times in exchange for this championship. After so many years of hard work with these guys that I’ve played with since I’m 8 years old — to win this title with my brothers is an amazing feeling.”

Lynch was able to run out and celebrate with his teammates as the field turned into a red sea of jubilant Bees, flying sticks, gloves and helmets in celebration of the school’s first-ever state title. Wilcox was happy to see that.

“Keegan is an amazing young man,” Wilcox said. “He’s one of the best offensive players in the state and as you can see, also one of the toughest. I’m so happy for Keegan and that he got a chance to run out there with his teammates. Nobody wanted the state championship more than he did.”

The Tigers also wanted it badly but unlike Wilcox, Lynch and the Bees, were not able to get it. But Cerasi and the boys are already looking forward to what comes next.

“After the game, I told the guys that this season is still a great success, and this team has a lot to be proud of,” said Cerasi, who always bubbles with positive energy. “The seniors on this team have a record of 35-5 and have succeeded in putting Northport Lacrosse back on the map. When I was up at the high school after the game, I was walking to my car, and I saw a bunch of the younger players with a bucket of balls, and they were already working on shooting and passing drills. These guys didn’t want it to end and are already trying to get better. Seeing that really lifted my spirits and it reminded me that the future is still very bright for Northport Lacrosse.”