Around Shoreham-Wading River, senior Marissa Kluber is affectionately known as the “garbage-can cleaner.” If she happens to drop a pass in front of the cage, she always follows through with the play to find a way to score.
“She gets so mad that we know she’s going to score,” said Shoreham-Wading River coach Mary Bergmann. “The girls just know it.”
With their season hanging in the balance as a fourth three-minute overtime period began at Rocky Point High School Saturday, the Wildcats gained possession after a long scramble for the crucial ground ball. Sophomore Paulina Constant got the ball ahead for Shoreham on the break and toward Kluber in front of the cage. As Kluber tried to make a play the ball landed on the ground, just how she likes it. She scooped the ground ball, saw an opening and connected on the game-winning goal in sudden death to give Shoreham an exhilarating and heart-wrenching 16-15 victory over Rocky Point in the opening round of the Class B playoffs.
“It wouldn’t have went down there without my teammates,” said Kluber, who scored a team-high five goals. “I couldn’t have asked for a better win.”
The Wildcats withstood a furious rally by Rocky Point as the Eagles stormed back from seven down with 8:09 left to send the game into overtime. The Wildcats led 15-8 before Rocky Point senior Jessica Hassett (four goals) scored on a free position to start a 7-0 run. Hassett capped it with another free position goal with 21 seconds left that tied the game for the first time since it was 6-6 in the opening seconds of the second half.
For two teams that have played so many close games over the years, it was only fitting their first playoff matchup since 2005 would come down to overtime. Well, three overtimes.
“It felt like a state championship [game],” said Shoreham junior Alyssa Fleming. “This is definitely a big win for us.”
Never before has a first-round playoff game for the Wildcats (10-7) had the kind of intensity that awaited them against Rocky Point. As a Class C school the last six years the Wildcats could count on a fairly smooth ride to the championship game. But as a B school this year and after finishing as the No. 6 seed, they faced a Rocky Point team that had won five of the last six county titles in the higher classification and a team that had made nine straight county championship games.
The Wildcats had plenty of streaks of their own, including a run of seven straight county titles that still lives. Shoreham advances to play No. 2 Sayville Tuesday on the road.
Rocky Point (10-6) got a spectacular effort from senior Caitlin Gargan, who scored a game-high six goals, including three in a row in the final five minutes that got the Eagles within one goal. The Notre Dame-bound senior made a key interception in the final minute and cleared the ball across the midfield to help set up the game-tying goal.
“Caitlin’s unstoppable,” said Rocky Point coach Jennifer Fucich. “Even at the end she’s still talking people up and keeping people’s heads up.”
Gargan nearly won the game for Rocky Point in overtime. In the final seconds of the second overtime period Gargan raced down the middle and fired a shot into the net, but she was whistled for a charge. Shoreham got possession and the game went to a sudden-death overtime after the first two three-minute periods expired without a goal.
Rocky Point had plenty of chances during overtime. The Eagles had a free position with Catlynn Kundrat taking the ball at the top-right of the arc. As she shot the ball got deflected in front and never made its way to the cage.
“When we went into sudden death, that’s when I got nervous,” Bergmann said. “They gave them a free position shot and I thought the game was over. Not anything against our goalie. That’s a hard situation to be in for both goalies in sudden victory overtime to have a free position against you.”
Shoreham eighth-grader Lauren Daly played more like a senior in her first varsity playoff game. She stopped 15 shots and helped keep Rocky Point scoreless for a 15-minute stretch in the first half. After the Wildcats opened up their biggest lead of the game at 15-8, Daly made consecutive saves on free positions.
“Lauren is definitely my hero,” Fleming said.
The Wildcats’ offense erupted to start the second half. Gargan scored for Rocky Point nine seconds into the half to tie the game at 6 and bring the Eagles back from a three-goal hole. But the Wildcats struck for seven goals over the next six minutes to open up a 13-7 lead.
Gargan scored on a free position with 16:01 left before the Wildcats answered with two more goals.
The game appeared all but over after Demi Lopez scored off an assist from Corinne Wiederkehr. But the Eagles had come too far to go down on their home field without fighting back.
“The heart and determination of my girls at that point was unreal,” Fucich said. “Every ball they were coming up with.”
Draws and ground balls were key as they almost always are in girls lacrosse. The Eagles won the majority of draws in the first half, but still trailed 6-5. To start the second half Shoreham began winning more and Rocky Point couldn’t stop the Wildcats’ offensive attack.
“I just told them at halftime, whoever is going to win this game is going to win the most draw controls,” Bergmann said. “At that point it was like a shoot-out; draw-control, score.”
Shoreham improved to 3-0 all-time in the playoffs against Rocky Point. All three victories were by one goal. The Wildcats also improved to 9-8 in the all-time series against Rocky Point.
After the game Fucich told her players there wasn’t much more they could have done.
“You gave everything,” she said. “Everything at that point.”
The Wildcats had nine different players score goals. For Kluber, the team’s leading goal scorer this season, it was the third time in her last five games she’s scored five goals.
“She’s always in the right spot at the right time,” Bergmann said. “She has a very hard shot.”
When asked if her game-winning goal was the biggest of her career, she laughed and said, “maybe.”
With as many as five games possibly still to play this year, that’s still to be determined.