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Girls Lacrosse: Middle Country draws up win in Riverhead

The Riverhead Blue Waves had hoped to turn the Middle Country Mad Dogs into the Sad Dogs. It didn’t happen, but at the same time, the Blue Waves couldn’t feel too bad. Not even in defeat.

Riverhead overcame a five-goal deficit it faced early in the second half and tied the score, only to fall, 11-10, on Jennifer Barry’s free-position shot with 6 minutes, 31 seconds to go in a showdown Saturday between two undefeated, highly ranked Suffolk County Division I girls lacrosse teams. Second-seeded Riverhead and third-seeded Middle Country entered the game at Riverhead’s Pulaski Sports Complex with nine wins between them.

“We dug ourselves out of a big hole and it’s really impressive since we’ve never seen our team dig ourselves out of a hole that well,” Riverhead attack Chrissy Thomas (two goals, two assists) said. “We saw today that we can be a second-half team, which is really important for the rest of the season.”

Win the draw, score a goal.

That pretty much was how things were working for Middle Country (5-0, 5-0) for a good deal of the game. Not only did Barry produce the game-winner, her third goal of the day to go with one assist, but her work on draw controls was big. Barry had three draw controls while teammates Sophie Alois and Kate Timarky added five each. Sophie Alois (three goals, two assists), Bella Alois (three goals) and Timarky (one goal, three assists) also fed the insatiable Middle Country offense.

A one-goal game could have been expected, just perhaps not the way this one came about.

Middle Country controlled 10 of the 13 first-half draws. That helped the Mad Dogs go on a 4-1 run that left them ahead, 9-4, after Sydney Juvelier scored following a draw win 12 seconds into the second half.

“Winning the draw is the game of lacrosse, for the most part,” Riverhead coach Ashley Schandel said. “… We generally do very well on the draw, and they were doing better than us.”

Riverhead defender Katie Goodale said draws are “probably one of the more important pieces of the game. They say if you win most of the draw controls, if you look at the draw controls, that sometimes predicts the winner of the game. If you have possession, you’re going to score goals.”

For the game, Middle Country won 15 draws and lost eight. And the Mad Dogs scored goals.

Riverhead (4-1, 4-1) looked in trouble, trailing by five goals to a strong team like Middle Country. It was enough to prompt one to wonder, “Is this game over?”

It wasn’t.

Schandel said, “I know what kind of team I have, and it’s the team that doesn’t give up.”

“I think everyone was just pumped up and ready to go because no one wanted to lose,” said Goodale, who was kept busy along with fellow defenders Emma Panciocco, Ella Malenga, Peyton Choma, Nicole Scioscia and Ce’ahnie Khan. “We wanted to come back. I don’t think anybody on the team had the mentality that we were going to let up at all. No one thought that it was over.”

Kayla Kielbasa (three goals) is Riverhead’s primary draw person, but the Blue Waves went to Melanie Vail in the second half, and she helped turn the tide.

Riverhead went on a game-changing 6-1 run, a spurt that started with a Thomas goal and ended with a Thomas goal from a shot on the right side that she bounced in off a feed from Megan Kielbasa (two goals, two assists). That knotted the score at 10-10 with 8:38 left to play.

Thomas said: “I was thinking, ‘Let’s go! Let’s go get another!’ And I think the rest of the team was thinking the same thing.”

After Barry’s go-ahead goal, though, Riverhead threw the ball away on its final possession with 10.2 seconds to go.

That was game over for real.

Riverhead received two goals from Emma Conroy, one goal from Delu Rizzo and three assists from Lauren Kenny, but Middle Country goalie Elizabeth Pomaro came up with some nice saves, making 12 altogether. Riverhead’s Sofia Salgado made 11 saves.

The game was redemption for Middle County, which suffered two one-goal losses to Riverhead last year, including once in the playoffs.

Thomas was asked if she thinks Riverhead will see Middle Country again this year.

“Oh yeah, definitely,” she answered. “And when we do, it’s going to be a good game.”

Sounds like a safe bet.

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Photo caption: Middle Country’s Hailey Grau, Riverhead’s Emma Conroy and Delu Rizzo, from left, reach for a ground ball in the first half. (Credit: Bob Liepa)