CLASS C STATE SEMIFINALS | WILDCATS 11, BRONCOS 2
About three weeks ago Shoreham-Wading River coach Tom Rotanz could sense some rumblings emanating from his team. The feeling among some players was that Rotanz, who runs the team’s offense, was always yelling at the defense.
“I pulled the whole team aside and I said, ‘Yes, that is 100 percent true,'” said Rotanz, a former defenseman himself.
He told the story of Ward Melville snapping a massive win streak held by West Genesee, a game the Colonials won 4-3.
“Did the offense win that? No. The defense wins these,” Rotanz told his team.
It’s a message that has resonated with the Wildcats, who have transformed into a nearly impenetrable defensive unit in the playoffs. For much of Wednesday’s Class C state semifinal against Bronxville, the biggest question was whether Shoreham could hold the Broncos scoreless the entire game.
They came awfully close.
Shoreham won 11-2 at Hofstra University’s Shuart Stadium, not allowing a goal until 2:47 remained in the fourth quarter. They came oh-so-close to the program’s first shutout.
“We wanted to go for the shutout,” said Shoreham goalkeeper Tyler Lutjen. “The defense really wanted it, but when you have a chance to get in some of the backups, the future players into the game, you want to get them some reps in one of the biggest games.”
Shoreham (17-3) advances to play Penn Yan at 11 a.m. Saturday at Middletown High School for the Class C title.
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GARRET MEADE PHOTOS
On a day where Shoreham’s offensive stars did what they normally do, it was the defensive unit that stood out most. The Broncos (20-2) struggled just to get off shots against the Shoreham defense, let alone good ones. By halftime the Wildcats had a 16-6 advantage in shots.
The Wildcats’ riding game made it difficult for Bronxville to clear and even set up on offense.
Earlier this season the Wildcats tweaked their defense into the zone that has worked so well in the playoffs. Senior Dylan Bates moved into the middle of the zone, becoming the quarterback of the defense.
Rotanz said Bates is like a coach on the field, barking orders to keep each defensman aligned in the right spot.
“He’s our team MVP,” Rotanz said. “He turned the season around.”
Shoreham defenseman Chris Mahoney, a five-year varsity player who signed with Ohio State, said the defensive players all started the season in different spots.
“As the season progressed we found our right spots and we put players where they would be most effective,” Mahoney said. “I think we nailed it.”
Shoreham’s defense has held opponents to 4 goals per game in the playoffs. Cold Spring Harbor scored seven in the Long Island finals Saturday, the most Shoreham has given up.
Rotanz credited assistant coach Gene Gersbeck for his role as the defensive coordinator who implemented the zone defense.
“Every offense that’s thrown at us we have a different scheme,” Rotanz said. “It’s pretty neat.”
Mahoney and Bates have anchored the defense along with senior Joe Longo and junior Ryan Sterns. Longo, a second-year varsity player, had a strong game playing mostly on the opposite side of Mahoney in the zone.
“It’s so hard to be recognized as part of the defense,” Mahoney said. “To see Longo do what he does and not get anything said, he doesn’t complain for one minute. I really give a lot of credit to him.”
When the Wildcats do give up shots, they’ve tended to be from far out. And they have plenty of faith that Lutjen will be there to stop anything that heads his way.
“Tyler is sometimes overlooked, but he’s a great goalie,” said senior Trevor Brosco, who led the Wildcats with three goals and two assists. “We count on him and he’s played great this whole postseason.”
When the game ended, Shoreham players sprinted toward Lutjen as is the custom at the end of a game. Lutjen, however, took off in the opposite direction, sprinting away from the impending mob.
Lutjen said he was thinking back to the Shoreham baseball team’s celebration after winning the county title when an assistant coach injured his ankle during the pile-up.
“We didn’t want to get anyone hurt in another dogpile,” Lutjen said.
The Wildcats emerged unscathed from their latest celebration and will have a chance for one more.
Shoreham led 3-0 at halftime against the Broncos, dominating the action, but still only clinging to the lead by a small margin. That quickly changed in the third quarter.
Shoreham struck for two goals 18 seconds apart to make it 5-0 in the first 1:40 of the third quarter. Brosco scored unnassisted and senior James Higgins converted a feed from Tim Rotanz for the next goal. Shoreham added two more in the quarter to take a 7-0 lead into the fourth.
The Wildcats led 10-0 before the Broncos broke through at last when junior Brewster Warble scored on a shot from straightaway with 2:47 left. He added one more with 15 seconds left for the final margin.
Higgins had three goals and an assist for Shoreham. Freshman Ryan Bray and senior Dylan Gorman both scored twice. Rotanz had one goal with a pair of assists.