No wonder Joe Miller and Chris Gray are good friends off the lacrosse field, given what they do for each other on the field with their contrasting styles.
It’s an interesting connection the two Shoreham-Wading River High School seniors share. Miller does the grunt work, winning faceoffs to bring the Wildcats possessions, and the flashy Gray, an all-American attack, scores the goals.
“It’s a great relationship we have,” said Gray.
That playing relationship was underscored Saturday amid the high drama at Shoreham’s Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field. Miller won the faceoff to start sudden-victory overtime, helping to set up Gray’s game-winner against rival Comsewogue 14 seconds into the extra session.
“That was pretty crazy,” Gray said after his fourth goal of the game clinched an 11-10 victory and he was swarmed by teammates who stormed onto the field to celebrate.
Miller, who won 16 of 24 faceoffs and collected a game-high 11 ground balls, had almost scored the winner himself. After scooping up a ground ball from his faceoff win in overtime, he raced downfield and took a shot that Comsewogue goalie Tom Heller somehow stopped for his 10th save.
“I was hoping [Miller] would score it,” Gray said. “He wins a lot of faceoffs. He deserves to get a couple of goals when he wants to.”
Instead, that honor went to Gray, who picked the ball up off the endline before giving it to Xavier Arline. Arline then fed Gray, who was charged at and hit by Heller, but not before shooting into an open net.
“When I got hit I let it go and I saw no one was there and I saw it was right in the middle of the net, so I was pretty pumped up,” said Gray, who believes it is the first overtime goal of his career.
The next thing he saw were joyous teammates running at him.
“We’re spoiled because we have a great faceoff guy and then we have an all-American, and all-Americans make plays,” Shoreham coach Michael Taylor said. “I mean, I didn’t draw that up. Chris just said, ‘I’m going to win the game for us.’ ”
Comsewogue (3-5 overall and in Suffolk County Division II) and its veteran coach, Pete Mitchell, have a history of playing Shoreham (8-2, 7-2) in county finals.
“It’s always a great game when we play Comsewogue,” the Boston University-bound Gray said. “They’re a rival of ours. We always know when we come out and play them that we’re going to get their best game.”
That’s why Shoreham needed four goals each from Gray, Kevin Cutinella and Arline. Gray and Cutinella each had an assist, too. Sean Halpin chipped in two goals and one assist.
But some other players who didn’t score who made a big difference. Miller, who will play for the Naval Academy Preparatory School, was a force with his faceoff work.
“Joe definitely won the game for us, just giving us all the possessions and all the opportunities to score goals,” Gray said. “He was a huge asset.”
Taylor said that when Shoreham’s field was built, Miller brought a small piece of leftover turf home to put in his backyard so he could practice faceoffs. “It’s a specialty,” Taylor said. “He puts a lot of work in.”
Faceoffs aren’t glamorous, but they are vital.
“It’s right up Joe’s alley,” Gray said. “Joe may not be getting written up in the paper every time, but he’s a key to every one of our wins.”
A key role was filled, as well, by defenseman Kyle Higgins, for his physical work in guarding Comsewogue’s big Will Snelders in the second half. For that, Taylor gave Higgins the game ball.
Shoreham goalie Andrew DePalma made 11 saves.
Richie Lacalandra (three goals, two assists), Snelders (three goals, one assist) and Sean Powers (two goals, one assist) led Comsewogue.
“Every game counts,” Taylor said. “We’re trying to gobble up as many points as we can to put ourselves in the best place at the end.”
Gray and Miller are doing their part in their own ways.
Photo caption: Shoreham-Wading River’s captains, from left, Daniel Cassidy, Chris Gray, Joe Miller and Kevin Cutinella during a pregame meeting with officials. (Credit: Bob Liepa)