The Ward Melville boys lacrosse team came into Smithtown West for a semifinal showdown with something to prove. The Bulls handled the Patriots 12-6 during the regular season and knocked the Patriots out of the playoffs in 2011.
Ward Melville exacted revenge and some, knocking off the favored Bulls, 13-9, behind hat tricks from Jack Bruckner, John Edmonds and Frank Lucatuorto.
For all the offense the Patriots put up it was the defensive scheme and goaltender Dan Nemirov who proved the difference in the win. The high octane Smithtown offense was carving Ward Melville up in the first quarter before the Patriots switched goalkeepers and brought Nemirov in.
“He definitely gave us a spark,” Ward Melville head coach Mike Hoppey said. “We debated starting him because he’s been playing well in practice. He lost his job after the last Smithtown West game but he’s been getting and better. When Ryan (Simpson) wasn’t seeing the ball well we decided to make a switch and sometimes the moves work out and sometimes they don’t and today was one of the days when it did.”
Nemirov made 11 saves overall, many in spectacular fashion in the second half as Ward Melville hung on.
Alex Dodge, who had three goals for Smithtown West, put the Bulls ahead 8-7 late in the second quarter. Smithtown West did not score again until late in the fourth.
“The kid made some good saves but we just didn’t shoot well in the second half,“ Smithtown West head coach Bob Moltisanti said. “We turned the ball over too much - I think that was a major issue. In the limited possessions we have we didn’t score in the second half. Give them credit, they’re a heck of a team.”
The Patriots pulled away in the second half, relying on efficient extended possessions. Ward Melville went into a zone defense for the entire second half and it helped to stifle the powerful Bulls offense.
Ward Melville’s stellar defense played hard until the final seconds. As the Bulls threw a ball from their own end towards midfield with the clock under 10 seconds Andrew Aicher - who had scored a highlight reel leaping goal earlier - once again lept into the air, striking Smithtown’s Ryan Keenan near the head.
James Pannell rushed to the aid of Keenan, blindsiding Aicher and knocking him to the ground. This set off a benches clearing scuffle that resulted in the game being called off with five seconds remaining.
Coach Hoppey talked about how happy he was for his team as he walked off the field and straight to the bus after the game was ended. “We felt that coming into this game we were a little bit of an underdog,” he said. “Our kids have played well in spurts the whole year but that was the first game we really put together for 4 quarters.”
When asked if the emotions of last years game and pulling the upset led to the unfortunate incidents at the end, he replied, “I think (Pannell) was frustrated at the end of the game and he lost his control a little bit.”
The Patriots will meet West Islip on Wednesday for the Long Island championship.