WILDCATS 8, WARRIORS 7 (OT)
As a five-goal lead slowly withered away Saturday afternoon, the nerves of the Shoreham-Wading River players became more and more frayed.
There were unforced turnovers, sloppy passes and even overpassing in transition, which is usually the bread and butter of Shoreham’s offense. For a team that lost as many key players as the Wildcats did from last year’s state championship team, performing under the pressure of a big game is a bit of a new experience.
“We had a lot of young guys start for us today,” said senior Tim Rotanz. “A big crowd, so it’s good for them to get this experience early.”
Facing their heated rivals in an early season showdown featuring two undefeated teams, the Wildcats persevered long enough for a thrilling 8-7 overtime win against the Comsewogue Warriors at Shoreham-Wading River High School.
“These younger kids, I know they can play,” said Shoreham coach Tom Rotanz. “I thought at one point we had given so many opportunities away and that’s why every huddle I said ‘can we just relax? Just play our game.’ ”
After the Warriors (6-1, 4-1 Division II) tied the game at 7 with 4:12 left in the fourth quarter, both teams had plenty of chances down the stretch and into overtime. The Warriors lost possession on a shot that went off the endline with about 1:25 left.
The Wildcats (5-0) got out into transition soon after, and Tim Rotanz brought it up and found a wide open Hunter Hayes at the goal. Hayes snagged a long feed from Rotanz and banged a shot inside the right post for the game-winner.
“I knew they were in a zone the whole game,” Rotanz said. “When I got it I saw they were still shifting around and Hunter put his stick up right over two shorties. He was behind the whole defense.”
Hayes said he saw the defenseman slide up, leaving him open.
“I knew Timmy would find me,” he said. “So I just slid into the open spot and shot it.”
Rotanz tallied two goals and two assists and Hayes had a pair of goals with an assist.
A junior in his second year on varsity, Hayes didn’t hesitate to call his goal the biggest of his career thus far.
“It’s the best one of all them combined,” he said.
A pile-up ensued on the field following Hayes’ goal, a scene that more resembled a playoff game in June than an early season game in April. But whenever the Wildcats and Warriors get together, there’s always a playoff feel to it.
“Every time we play Comsewogue it’s a huge game,” Tim Rotanz said. “It’s always close with them.”
Fans packed the bleachers and lined the east side of the field. A large contingent of Comsewogue fans made the short trip east.
It was all Shoreham fans cheering early as the Wildcats blitzed the Warriors with a 5-0 start in the opening 7 1/2 minutes. Tim Rotanz whipped two goals in 21 seconds apart to make it 4-0 and Anthony Visitin (2 goals, 2 assists) scored with 4:36 left to make it 5-0. The Wildcats appeared to be on their way to a rout.
But the offense soon went dry. The Warriors limited Shoreham to just two more goals over the next 40 1/2 minutes.
“I think they picked up our offense,” Tim Rotanz said. “They settled their zone in and they really picked it up well.”
The Warriors chipped away at Shoreham’s lead and began the fourth quarter with the first three goals to tie the game.
With their backs against the wall, the Wildcats kept their composure to rally back and find a way to win.
Shoreham got a big effort from goalkeeper Christian Palazzotto, a senior who’s quickly developed into a rock between the pipes in his first year starting. Palazzotto came up with several difficult saves to keep Comsewogue at bay.
“He basically came out of nowhere,” Tom Rotanz said. “He was always kind of an average goalie and then this spring he has blossomed into a great stopper. He has very good poise on the clear, good outlet passes and he positions himself well.”
After Sayville’s loss to Eastport Saturday, the Wildcats are the last unbeaten team in Division II.