The Riverhead High School boys lacrosse team was denied its first win on Saturday, but there was no denying the Blue Waves’ refusal to quit — not to mention their flair for the dramatic.
Miller Place offered some drama of its own. After being forced into overtime on the stroke of regulation time, Miller Place sent Riverhead home with an 8-7 non-league defeat thanks to Kevin Gersbeck’s game-ending third goal of the day. The junior midfielder, who had struck the pipe earlier in the four-minute overtime, found the top left corner with his quick release for a man-up goal off a pass from Chris Nielsen at 2 minutes 33 seconds of the period for the sudden victory. A ground ball by Joe Bartolotto set up the winning sequence.
“I wasn’t even sure if that went in,” Gersbeck said. “It was just a great feeling.”
Riverhead (0-2, 0-0 Suffolk County Division I) couldn’t feel too bad, either, even with the loss. The Blue Waves showed considerable improvement from their season-opening 15-7 setback to Eastport-South Manor four days earlier.
Riverhead coach Vic Guadagnino sounded upbeat after Saturday’s game. “That’s a great effort, nothing negative to say,” he said. “We played much harder, much more intense, much more focused.”
Riverhead never led, but didn’t allow Miller Place (2-0, 0-0 Division II), the second-seeded team in its division, to lead by more than two goals. The Blue Waves battled back four times to even the score, the last time in the dying moments of the fourth quarter. With the final seconds of regulation counting down, Riverhead defenseman Dan Hubbard picked up the ball deep in his own end and threw it forward to Austin Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick then found Connor Grauer, who put the ball in with 1.6 seconds to go, knotting the score at 7-7.
“We never gave up,” said Grauer, a sophomore attackman.
After Gersbeck bounced a shot in for a 6-4 lead, Riverhead’s Blake Carrara and Dalton Lucas replied with scores within 34 seconds of each other. But then Miller Place’s Anthony Beck pushed in a close-range shot off a feed from Jack Walsh for a go-ahead goal with 3:26 left in the fourth quarter.
It was desperation time, and Riverhead turned up the pressure while the clock wound down. A Lucas shot was saved by Jake Bowrosen (12 saves), a halftime replacement for Joe Kessler (six saves). An attempt by John Ehlers missed the mark. Grauer sent a shot off the pipe. A low effort by Ehlers was stopped by Bowrosen. Fitzpatrick bounced a shot over the goal. Another effort by Ehlers missed the mark.
Then, the goal that looked as if it would never come arrived in the form of Grauer’s equalizer.
“I don’t think it deflated us, but it put us in a different situation than we had before that and we had to just come back in overtime and take it,” said Gersbeck, who took 11 shots and had two assists.
Chris Nielsen and Walsh each had two goals and one assist for Miller Place, which also received two assists and six ground balls from Tyler Ammirato.
Ben Weir (two goals, one assist) and Fitzpatrick (one goal, two assists) led a Riverhead offense that was aided by the work of Ehlers. In addition to scoring a goal, Ehlers handled all the faceoffs for Riverhead, winning 12 of 16 and collecting eight ground balls.
Riverhead goalie Jacob Coleman stopped 13 shots.
But when overtime arrived, it was time for Miller Place to find its best shooter, Gersbeck, and the Panthers pounced on Riverhead’s zone defense.
“Kevin has something a lot of kids don’t,” Miller Place coach Keith Lizzi said. “His first two steps can freeze hands up, and he’s got a great shot. A lot of kids can’t really beat you with two steps, but Kevin can and that’s what’s able to separate him from a lot of other midfielders.”
It wasn’t a win for Riverhead, but the Blue Waves could take solace in the improvements they made to their defense in their final tuneup before their Division I opener at home against Copiague on Tuesday.
Fitzpatrick said, “It didn’t go our way, but it was a step in the right direction.”
Photo caption: Miller Place’s long-stick midfielder Joe Bartolotto tries to slow down Riverhead defenseman Blake Carrara. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)