RIVERHEAD 7, MIDDLE COUNTRY 6
Riverhead junior Alex Panagakos faced what could have very well been a crossroad for the season late in the first half last week against William Floyd.
The Blue Waves came into the game riding momentum of four wins in five games and the possibility of playoffs looming in the distance. One of the weaker teams in Division I, the Colonials blitzed the Blue Waves early, tallying 11 first-half goals.
Riverhead coach Victor Guadagnino decided to pull Panagakos from the goal, hoping for some kind of spark.
“In the first half he was very erratic,” Guadagnino said. “I pulled him and then put him back in. Since that moment, he’s been dead on.”
Panagakos returned to the field with a renewed focus and the Blue Waves held on to beat William Floyd by one goal and allowed only two in the second half.
When the Blue Waves needed Panagakos again at the end of Friday afternoon’s game at home against Middle Country, he delivered again. Panagakos made five saves in the fourth quarter as the Blue Waves held on 7-6 for their eighth win of the season.
Middle Country held possession late in the fourth quarter for what seemed like an eternity while trailing by one goal. The Blue Waves (8-6, 7-5 Division I) couldn’t force any turnovers and if they did momentarily gain possession, they quickly coughed it back up before clearing, keeping the pressure on Panagakos between the pipes.
“I get a little nervous,” Panagakos said. “But I think I do better under pressure so I think it kind of came together good.”
He finished with 10 saves for the game, including a pair in the final two minutes on shots by Middle Country sophomore Dylan Harned. He made two more saves on shots by Zach Harned and Mike Silva before the Blue Waves finally gained possession and called a timeout with 54 seconds left.
The Blue Waves nearly coughed it up again on a clearing pass, but defenseman Mike Van Bommel was there for the ground ball. The Blue Waves advanced the ball deep into Middle Country territory and were able to run the clock for the final minute.
“Last year I think we would have collapsed with the mistakes,” Guadagnino said. “We couldn’t mentally get through that. Now we’re like, all right, we got to keep playing.”
The Blue Waves took their biggest lead of the game at 6-3 on a long shot by senior Ryan Bitzer off a feed from Ryan Hubbard. Middle Country (5-9, 5-7) answered nine seconds later after a face-off victory. The lead shrunk to one after the Blue Waves allowed a man-up goal with 56 seconds left in the third quarter.
Riverhead responded with a goal by R.J. Foster, who was also big on face-offs for the Blue Waves. Foster’s goal came with 21 seconds left in the third quarter.
That would be it for the Riverhead offense, as the team relied on its defense to carry it home.
“We were having a lot of talk, a lot of chattering letting each other know who’s hot and everything, all the slides and defensive talk,” Panagakos said. “We just held it together.”
Bitzer had two assists to go with his goal. Paul Harron had two goals and an assist.
The Blue Waves have two games remaining in the season and will need to win both, plus some help from teams above them, to get a spot in the Class A playoffs.