Boys Lacrosse: Face-off advantage too much for Riverhead to overcome

ROBERT O'ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead attackman Ryan Hubbard scored three goals for the Blue Waves Tuesday against West Babylon.


As a former lacrosse player at West Babylon High School, Victor Guadagnino still maintains ties to the program where his career began.

“I’m friends with them and I know some of their better players,” the Riverhead coach said.

So it was no surprise for the Blue Waves before the start of Tuesday afternoon’s game at Coach Mike McKillop Memoral Field that the strength of West Babylon’s team centered around the dirty work of junior Kevin Reisman on face-offs.

Reisman won 20 of 23 face-offs to allow the Eagles plenty more possessions and eventually a 12-8 Division I victory, which dropped Riverhead to 2-2 overall and 1-2 in Division I.

After neither team led by more than two through the first 28 minutes, the Eagles ran off five straight goals over a little more than four minutes early in the third quarter to take control.

But it was on the face-offs where the Eagles (4-1, 3-0 Division I) dominated throughout.

“I’ve known this kid since he was young and he can win face-offs,” Guadagnino said. “We tried everything. We were laying on his arm, we were using the pole on him. We didn’t think we’d defeat him, we were just hoping to disrupt it.”

Twice the Eagles were able to score within 20 seconds of securing a face-off for back-to-back goals. The second came after the Eagles tied the game at six early in the third quarter. The Eagles won the face-off and Andrew Schweigert swerved free of a double team to find a wide open Zach Asher in front for the easy goal.

The Eagles took a 7-6 lead and never looked back. They led by as many as five in the fourth quarter.

It didn’t help during the Eagles’ five-goal run that Riverhead junior Ryan Bitzer was on the sideline. Bitzer got a cross-check into the throat, forcing him to the bench where he sat with a big of ice for a brief period before returning.

“Those mental lapses happened right in that stretch,” Guadagnino said. “Not that one kid will change a game, but he brings a calmness and ease when we’re playing. When that ease was gone we mentally broke down.”

Bitzer, who’s led the team in scoring so far this season, still did his part with three goals and an assist.

The Blue Waves got back into a better flow after West Babylon’s surge. Over the final 15 1/2 minutes each team scored twice.

“Their keeper came up big at the end,” Guadagnino said. “He made like seven, eight saves down the stretch. His confidence got up late in the game.”

West Babylon goalkeeper Tyler Hartmann finished with 16 saves.

The Blue Waves got a strong effort in goal from Alex Panagakos, who finished with 14 saves.

While last year games quickly slipped away from Riverhead in the second half, the Blue Waves are beginning to find ways to maintain their style and play the way they want to. It started in their last game against East Islip when they came back from a three-goal deficit in the second half to defeat East Islip in overtime, 5-4.

It was the Blue Waves’ second win of the season, already matching their total from last year.

“We’re finding ways to play our style of game and pick up ground balls and play tough defense down the stretch,” Guadagnino said. “We’re getting there. We’re young, but we’re starting to get some of those concepts.”

The Blue Waves briefly led by a goal at two separate points. Ryan Hubbard scored the first of his three goals in the second quarter to put Riverhead up 4-3. He also scored the first goal of the second half that made it a 6-5 Riverhead game.

Riverhead nearly took the lead in the final seconds of the first half on a miracle goal. From deep in West Babylon territory, Bitzer flung up a long, high-arcing shot that came down amid a crowd of players like a Hail Mary pass in football. Hubbard reached out his stick and tipped the ball into the goal just as the clock expired. But the referee ruled the ball went in after the buzzer.

Guadagnino said it wasn’t the first time they’ve had a play like that.

“Believe it or not, we had one last year in the same circumastance and they said the buzzer went off before,” Guadagnino said. “I’m like, that happens once in a career.”

It’s a play the Blue Waves have practiced.

“Either smack it in or tip it in and Hubbard just saw it come, went behind his guy, tipped it and it went right in,” Guadagnino said.

Perfectly executed. Just didn’t count.

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