The afternoon began with tears and laughter for the Riverhead High School girls lacrosse team — and then it ended with the former.
The tears and laughter early on were part of an emotion-charged Senior Recognition Day ceremony on Thursday in which Riverhead’s five seniors heard kind words from teammates, received flowers and hugged their coaches.
Little did they suspect at the time that there was much more emotion to come.
History beckons for Riverhead, which is seeking the first playoff berth in its six-year varsity history. Longwood, with a heavy dose of its offensive spark plug, Alison Johnson, put a major dent in Riverhead’s plans, though.
Riverhead, which never led and trailed for virtually the entire Suffolk County Division I game, battled back to tie the score, 16-16, on Courtney Troyan’s sixth goal of the game with 2 minutes 27 seconds remaining.
Troyan then won the draw as teammate Delu Rizzo came up with the ground ball. Riverhead worked the ball around before Meghan Kielbasa slipped, fell and lost possession to Longwood’s Victoria Staker, who raced into Riverhead territory. Then Johnson, a senior who is headed to Adelphi University, worked her magic. After maneuvering behind the goal, she flipped a shot in for the game-winning strike with 22.1 seconds to go. Longwood 17, Riverhead 16.
It was the ninth goal of the game for Johnson, who also had five assists and seven ground balls in a phenomenal performance.
“That was a huge goal,” Longwood coach Randy Grossman said of Johnson, who has scored as many as 12 goals in a game. “You can’t stop a good player like that.”
Troyan won the draw and Riverhead managed one final shot, but Shannon Schmidt’s attempt was stopped by goalie Paige DeLong.
“If that went in, it would have been a game-changer,” Troyan said, “and that was why there were a lot of tears, because we were so close.”
Longwood (6-10, 5-9) jumped for joy on Riverhead’s sun-splashed Coach Mike McKillop Memorial Field at the end.
For Riverhead (8-8, 8-6) there were tears and heartbreak.
Riverhead needs to finish among the top 11 teams in the power-rated division in order to see the playoffs. The Blue Waves started the day in 11th place.
After the cruel loss, it was still unclear whether Riverhead would get in or not. For that the Blue Waves would have to wait until the updated standings are posted by Section XI on Friday.
“We can’t say that we’re definitely out,” coach Ashley King said. “I don’t know that until tomorrow, I guess. We have to see where the chips fall.”
How much would it hurt not to reach the playoffs?
“A lot,” senior attack Rachel Phillips said. “This was our chance. This was our year.”
Johnson, Longwood’s all-time leading scorer, was an unstoppable force, scoring on her first five shots. Her nine goals came from 11 shots.
“I don’t know how you let somebody score that many goals,” said King, who noted that the game plan was to lock Johnson down.
“She’s a strong player; she’s a good player, but our defense wasn’t on the same page,” King said. “Your ‘D’ has to act as a single unit. It can’t be everyone on their own island.”
And then there was DeLong, who came up big time and again. She made 14 saves, scooped up three ground balls and even picked up a rare assist for a netminder.
“She played huge,” said Grossman.
Longwood was also paced by Staker (three goals, one assist), Angelica Lopez (two goals, one assist, seven ground balls) and Jessie Biegel (two goals).
Riverhead, which held a 36-26 advantage in shots, received good production from Kayla Kielbasa (four goals, two assists, seven ground balls) and Meghan Kielbasa (three goals, two assists). Troyan won 23 of 36 draws.
“It’s heart-breaking for them,” said King, whose team set a school record for most wins in a season.
If Riverhead is denied a playoff place, it will be a tough final game for seniors Milce Garcia, Kaitlyn Keane, Katelyn Zaneski, Phillips and Troyan. Phillips (SUNY/Old Westbury) and Troyan (Stony Brook University) both have college playing careers to look forward to.
“It’s been an amazing season,” Troyan said. She added: “We’ve broke records and we’ve done things that we never thought Riverhead could have done. We can’t use the excuse that we’re a young program any more. We’ve grown so much, our team has grown so much that I think we did some amazing things. This is leaving a legacy.”
Photo caption: Kayla Kielbasa had four goals, two assists and seven ground balls for Riverhead in its loss to Longwood. (Credit: Garret Meade)