Nothing in Suffolk County Division I boys lacrosse, where parity is paramount, is easy this year. That point was made by Riverhead and Commack coaches on Tuesday, and then their teams went out and proved it.
In a remarkably tight contest that saw the teams separated by as many as two goals only once, Commack prevailed, 10-9, on Dillon Malyniak’s only goal of the afternoon with 4 minutes, 18 seconds remaining. The score was tied eight times and the lead changed hands twice as the teams matched each other shot for shot and faceoff for faceoff much of the way at Commack Stadium.
Welcome to Division I.
“Every game is tough,” said Commack coach Scott Bryan.
Riverhead goalie Ryan Ott, who made 16 saves in a superb performance, said: “This division is the best division. There’s going to be a lot of nail-biting games, and we’re facing some of the toughest teams in the country right now.”
In a close game like this, everything is magnified, like the offensive talents of Commack’s Blake Behlen (three goals, two assists) or Riverhead’s Caleb Zuhoski (three goals, one assist), Dalton Lucas (three goals) and Kamryn Gill (two goals, two assists). Or the clutch goaltending of Ott, who kept Riverhead in the game with some big stops in the face of intense pressure.
“You see the kids that step up and you see the kids that don’t,” Lucas said. “It’s plain and simple. Pressure can decide a lot.”
Commack (3-2, 2-2), coming off a one-goal loss itself to Connetquot last Thursday, turned up the pressure after Malyniak fired in his winning goal from a pass by Behlen, snapping a 9-9 tie.
Commack’s Logan Tobias, Behlen and Nick Guaglione came up with big ground balls in the final minutes. Riverhead (3-3, 2-2) was punished for a series of failed clears and turnovers that helped enable Commack to run out the clock.
“I think that was just the pressure of the game,” said Ott.
Lucas said: “With two minutes to go, down by one, you know you need the ball. You can’t make any stupid decisions or failed clears. Multiple failed clears in a row can really hurt you.”
And they did.
Riverhead coach Vic Guadagnino lamented his team’s five failed clears, four in the fourth quarter and three in one possession. “That’s when they banged in the winning goal,” he said.
Commack, aided by two goals and an assist each from Guaglione and Liam Walshe, had frustrations of its own, thanks to Ott’s play in goal. Ott, playing with sharpened focus, started the game, was replaced by William Burkowsky in the second quarter, and then returned for a stellar second half. Among the junior’s highlights were his denial of Walshe on a breakaway, saves of close-range attempts by Behlen and Bobby Abshire in quick succession and his stop of Jacob Arato on the doorstep. And there were more.
“Big saves,” Guadagnino said. “Late in the game he really stepped up when we needed him. That was a great job.”
After the game, someone mentioned to Lucas that nothing is easy in Division I. The senior attackman readily agreed, saying, “You’re not going to get handed anything on a silver platter.”
How does Riverhead respond to this setback?
Guadagnino was looking ahead to games against William Floyd on Thursday and Smithtown East on Saturday.
“You just got to come back,” he said. “If you win the next two, you forget about the one that you let get away.”
“I thought our kids fought and played hard the whole game,” he continued. “Our effort was fantastic. They never stopped. We played all the way through the final whistle, and that’s all we could ask for. With that effort and with our abilities, hopefully we’ll start turning these one-goal losses into one-goal wins.”
Photo caption: Riverhead’s Dalton Lucas (three goals) tries to thwart Commack’s Logan Tobias. (Credit: Bob Liepa)