Fans rushed onto the Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field to celebrate with the victors on Thursday, and as the students piled up on top of the No. 2-seeded Shoreham-Wading River boys’ lacrosse team, the Wildcats felt the rush of the 8-4 comeback win they took part in that is sending them into the Class B finals.
For Kevin Cutinella, the win was meaningful in more ways than one.
“Since it was on our home field — the Tom Cutinella Memorial Field — it’s significant,” he said. “It feels good.”
The junior midfielder, younger brother of the student-athlete who died following a head-on collision in a football game in late 2014, had scored the game-winning goal in the Class B quarterfinals against Eastport-South Manor with 1:49 left in regulation. This time, he also scored what would be the game-winning goal against Comsewogue High School, when he received a feed with an open look on the left side of the cage, and sent the ball into the netting to get the Wildcats past the round that held them back last season.
“It felt good,” he said of the goal as his face lit up. “You can’t think up things like that. I put myself in the right spot at the right time and executed.”
Cutinella also fired the first shot of the game, which went off the post with 2:58 left in the first quarter. Comsewogue came prepared though, knowing their opponent’s plays and blocking key players to keep them distant. Senior Warrior goalkeeper Jake MacGregor made it that much more difficult for the Wildcats, blocking all attempts in the quarter.
Shoreham-Wading River junior attack Chris Gray finally found a way to score when he swiveled around the back of the cage and dumped the ball into the top right corner. But Comsewogue junior Will Snelders had a quick response, whipping a diagonal strike in from 20 yards out, as the Warriors were running into trouble getting close to the crease.
“We need to work hard — whistle to whistle. They’re not going to back down; they’re going to fight.”
Shoreham-Wading River senior midfielder Jason Curran received a pass on a fast break and beat out MacGregor for a 2-1 advantage, but Comsewogue responded when senior midfielder Trevor Kennedy rocketed a shot from 15 yards away to tie it up.
The Warriors try to pull away from there. With 3:14 left in the half, Snelders took the ball from behind the cage and scored and, with eight seconds left, sophomore Richie Lacalandra found an open shot off a feed from senior midfielder and attack Brandon O’Donoghue for a 4-2 halftime lead.
The Warriors defense was holding down the fort and the offense was connecting on turnovers and finding its groove. But head coach Pete Mitchell told his team at halftime that he knew the win wasn’t going to be that easy.
“Take advantage of the tendencies we see in film,” he said. “We need to work hard — whistle to whistle. They’re not going to back down; they’re going to fight.”
And fight they did.
Shoreham-Wading River head coach Mike Taylor said the Warriors did something his team wasn’t prepared for — locking in Curran. So the team made adjustments to work around the blocks.
Gray scored to pull the team within one less than two minutes into the third, and although MacGregor made a save, so did Shoreham-Wading River senior goalkeeper Jimmy Puckey, who ended up shutting out the Comsewogue offense in the second half.
“We settled down and started playing as a team, and when we start playing like a team no one can stop us,” Puckey said. “I felt good once I had the first few stops under my belt. I had a rough one in the second quarter but then the defense and I locked it down the rest of the game.”
Junior attack Jon Constant tied it up a minute and a half into the fourth quarter, and with 4:44 left on the clock was when Cutinella scored the game winner.
“When we start playing like a team no one can stop us.”
“We tried to force it too early and just paced ourselves in the second half,” Cutinella said. “Patience is key.”
Shoreham-Wading River junior Joe Miller winning a majority of the faceoffs was also key to the team’s comeback, but what Taylor credits above all is how far the team has come since its overtime loss in the semifinals last year, after an undefeated season.
“Most of the kids had never played varsity before and they didn’t have any playoff experience, so they got into that game and the pressure got to them,” he said. “They’re acting like savvy veterans now, so when the pressure was on, they didn’t feel it. They kept it together and got back in the game. I think the loss last year was painful, but it’s probably part of why we are where we are today.”
Now, the Wildcats are ready for redemption.
Shoreham-Wading River will take on the No. 4 Sayville, which upset No. 1 Bayport-Blue Point, on June 1 at Stony Brook University at 3 p.m.
“I believe in every one of us,” Cutinella said. “This is our year.”