The pack of Shoreham-Wading River students huddled together on the track, chanting, jumping, waiting for their chance to join the on-field celebration on Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field.
As the Shoreham lacrosse players finished shaking hands with Comsewogue after an 8-4 Class B semifinal victory, senior Jason Curran looked over to his fellow students and yelled out: “Release the hounds!”
A few seconds later, as security gave the OK, the students charged onto the field, piling on top of the victorious Wildcats. It was a far different scene than what the players experienced exactly one year earlier, when in the semifinals, their season abruptly ended at home with a shocking overtime loss to Sayville.
Now, the Wildcats will get their chance for redemption.
The victory Thursday afternoon sends the Wildcats into the Class B county championship game Wednesday where they’ll meet the Golden Flashes, who upset No. 1 seed Bayport-Blue Point in the other semifinal.
The Wildcats will be playing in their first county final since 2013.
“It’s a very special moment to win this,” Curran said. “My last game on Tommy’s field and it’s a great way to get back to good old-fashioned Shoreham lacrosse.”
The Wildcats overcame a two-goal halftime deficit and shut out the Warriors in the second half. The Wildcats scored the final six goals of the game after trailing 4-2.
The 8-4 final doesn’t tell the full story of just how close the game was throughout. The Wildcats went up two goals for the first time with just 4:32 left in the fourth quarter. Curran whipped a pass from the right side across the field to junior Chris Gray, who quickly fired a shot on goal and in, sending the Shoreham crowd into a frenzy. The goal came just 12 seconds after the Wildcats had retaken their first lead since the second quarter on a Kevin Cutinella goal.
Penalties in the final two minutes on Comsewogue hampered any comeback effort and allowed the Wildcats a chance to score twice more to ice the game.
Gray the led the team with four goals, including the final one with 15 seconds left.
“It’s a team win,” he said. “None of those goals would have been possible without my teammates. I’m in the right spot. A couple times they found me backside and I was able to stick an outside shot.”
The Wildcats had to overcome a fierce zone defense that hasn’t allowed double-digit goals in any game this season. In the regular season, Shoreham won 5-4 in double overtime, a clear indicator this game likely wouldn’t be a shootout.
“Our coaches were watching film all week finding soft spots in that good Comsewogue zone,” Gray said. “We were really relying on each other to find the soft spots and work as a team.”
Even after all the preparation, the Wildcats were still thrown a curveball when the Warriors decided to have a defender lock off Curran early in the game. Shoreham coach Mike Taylor said they didn’t expect that to happen, forcing the team to make some adjustments to get the offense on track.
Taylor said some teams have tried that during the season, but it was usually late in a game.
“It’s hard because you have to figure out where to put him in a position to make them have an awkward slide, or how to take advantage of using him to create open opportunities or remove him and play five-on-five.”
Top photo caption: Shoreham-Wading River’s Chris Gray scores the eighth and final goal for the Wildcats. (Credit: Garret Meade)
Taylor said the best success came when they decided to keep Curran removed from the action and let the remaining players operate.
Curran said they knew going into the game they would need to be smart with the ball to make the most of opportunities.
“Their goalie [Jake] Macgregor played on his head today,” Curran said. “A lot of one-on-one saves.”
Shoreham’s counterpart in goal, senior Jimmy Puckey, was more than up for the challenge as well. Puckey made a couple good saves early in the game to keep the Warriors from gaining an early advantage.
The Wildcats still trailed by a goal entering the fourth quarter before tying it on a goal by Jon Constant with 10:31 left. A big advantage on face-offs behind Joe Miller proved to be crucial as well.
“I think now that we have these close games under our belt, I think we’re a different team,” Taylor said. “It’s playoff lacrosse. You got to execute.”