It’s quite appropriate the Riverhead High School girls lacrosse team got an opportunity to celebrate its dramatic 14-13 sudden-death victory over Smithtown East not once, but twice on Saturday.
After junior midfielder Megan Kielbasa scored with 2 minutes, 29 seconds remaining in overtime at Nicholas Schroeder Field, the Smithtown coach asked for a stick check by the referees.
A minute later, the game officials said Kielbasa’s stick was within regulation and the Blue Waves celebrated their biggest win of the season.
“I knew my stick was fine,” Kielbasa said. “I was just patient and calm. I was ready to call it a goal.”
Riverhead (7-1, 7-1 Suffolk County Division I) entered the overtime with a man advantage after Gabrielle Schneider was penalized for a hard foul with 45 seconds remaining in regulation. The Blue Waves passed the ball around until Kielbasa saw her opening and beat goaltender Kaitlyn Mangiello from close range from the left side.
“I saw my matchup and I saw that it was something I should take,” she said. “I knew I had a good opportunity. I made sure I put the ball low, made sure it went into the back of the net and quickly celebrated with my teammates.”
And, as it turned out, a second time as well.
“We have a lot of faith in her,” said her sister, senior midfielder Kayla Kielbasa, who added a hat trick and won 17 of her 26 draws. “She’s very fast and speedy. So, she can definitely dominate her one-on-one matches. She just got it done.”
Outside of the playoffs next month, the Blue Waves, ranked third with 131.900 points in Division I, are in the midst of the most difficult and challenging stretch of their schedule. Within a span of 19 days, they will have played Middle Country, whom they lost to, 11-10, on April 6, Smithtown East and then Northport on April 19.
“We lost to Middle Country and I’m OK with it,” coach Ashley Schandel said. “Sometimes you need a loss to just [give] you a little perspective and say, ‘We didn’t play our game that day.’ And if we did, I bet you it would have been a different [outcome].”
Smithtown East (6-2, 5-2, 128.090 power-rating points), ranked third, defeated Northport (6-1, 6-1, 141.900), 11-5, on April 6.
“They are coming off a high,” Schandel added. “They took the number one team. It just shows any of these teams will be anybody’s game. I would say that the top chunk of top teams are all very close, very similar. You might have one kid injured that changes your whole thing. It’s definitely going to be an exciting playoff bracket for Division I.”
The game was reminiscent of a bout between two prize fighters, each team having its moment and escape from adversity.
Riverhead had grabbed a 6-3 lead with 9:19 remaining in the opening half behind the first of Megan Kielbasa’s four goals before the Bulls battled back for an 8-8 halftime deadlock.
The second half was a see-saw battle. The goal of Emma Conroy’s hat trick gave Riverhead a short-lived 9-8 edge before the hosts stole the momentum with three consecutive goals for an 11-9 lead.
“I never lost confidence in our team,” Schandel said. “We do have a team that if we dig ourselves into a hole we will fight back and get ourselves out of it.”
Which is what the Blue Waves did as they took control, striking thrice behind Chrissy Thomas, Conroy and Ava Lily Sumwalt for a 12-11 edge with 11:42 left in regulation.
The Bulls took over as Dani Brady and Bella Costa lifted them to a 13-12 lead with 6:30 remaining in the fourth.
Lauren Kenny equalized off a low shot from the left side thanks to a Sumwalt feed with 5:59 to go.
Smithtown East called a timeout with 4:52 left and came out passing the ball around, trying to set up for one final shot. That strategy, however, was thwarted as Riverhead regained possession. The Blue Waves gave it away and the Bulls never got off a shot in their final possession.
The Blues Waves’ ultimate goal is a first county title.
“We know we have the talent this year, more than any years in the past,” Megan Kielbasa said. “We’ve definitely grown as a program and as a team. We’re right there with all the top teams. And we know we can do. So, why not?”