One could call it Patriots’ Day. Then again, the Ward Melville Patriots have been doing this sort of thing for decades.
And by “this sort of thing,” we mean winning games and championships.
Ward Melville is the gold standard for Suffolk County boys lacrosse, with a 51-year tradition of excellence. Over that time, the Patriots won their second national championship last year and 10 state titles, including the last two years. Add to that 19 Long Island championships, 26 county crowns and 35 league titles.
That’s why the Ward Melville lacrosse program was inducted into the Suffolk County Sports Hall of Fame Thursday night.
It’s a tough legacy to live up to.
“Every year each team has to write its own chapter, quite honestly, and this team hasn’t played its best lacrosse yet, which is kind of scary,” said Ward Melville coach Jay Negus.
Maybe not as scary as it was for Riverhead to have to face Ward Melville in a Suffolk Class A quarterfinal Friday.
“If you want to get to a county final, you have to get through Ward Melville,” said Riverhead coach Vic Guadagnino.
The greatest season in Riverhead’s history was brought to an end at Ward Melville High School. Four Patriots each scored twice and Ward Melville broke open a one-goal game with a 5-0 run on the way to a 12-7 victory. Brandon Aviles, Patrick O’Neill, Rocco Barbero and Dylan Pallonetti had two goals apiece (Aviles and O’Neill also picked up an assist each) for second-seeded Ward Melville (12-3). The Patriots will host No. 3 Northport (12-5) in a semifinal Thursday.
For No. 7 Riverhead, though, it meant the end to a memorable season by possibly the best team the Blue Waves have ever fielded.
Senior midfielder Shane Coleman believes it to be the most talented Riverhead team ever. “We had six guys that could sling the ball, six guys that could score, six guys that wanted to be out there and six guys that could do everything,” he said.
Except beat Ward Melville. No easy task, to be sure.
Not that Riverhead (13-5) didn’t give it a good try. Riverhead scored first through Kamryn Gill and then tied the score at 2-2 and 3-3 on strikes by Caleb Zuhoski and Connor Kalmus.
Coleman scored 58 seconds into the third quarter to pull Riverhead within 6-5. That’s when Ward Melville responded like a champion. The Patriots fired in five straight goals from five players — Steven Germain (one goal, two assists), O’Neill, Ethan Larson, Aviles and Trey Berry.
“I think we gave it our all,” said Kalmus who, like Coleman, had two goals and one assist. “We played with heart. We just came up short.”
Guadagnino said Ward Melville’s transition game made the difference. “They transitioned well, and that bit us a little bit,” he said. “I think if you take away those transitions it was an even game, but that’s definitely where they excelled.”
Ward Melville goalie Collin Krieg was sharp, making eight saves.
“They’re always going a hundred percent, always,” Kalmus said. “It’s hard to stick with them because they’re always trying to pull away so you almost have to be a hundred percent, going your best, and have no mistakes.”
Connor Batjer had a goal and two assists for Riverhead.
Ryan Ott (nine saves) and Anthony Caputo (two) split time in the Riverhead goal.
Riverhead had lost to Ward Melville, 11-3, on April 11.
It was quite a season for Riverhead. The Blue Waves finished in seventh place in Suffolk Division I and are ranked 21st among state Class A teams by the New York State Sportswriters Association (Ward Melville is ranked 10th). The 13 wins are the most they have ever posted in a season. Riverhead beat some teams it had never beaten before like Connetquot, Commack and Sachem East.
“I think we took a big step from anywhere we’ve been before,” said Kalmus.
Of course, having 13 seniors on the roster didn’t hurt.
“This senior class has a lot to be proud of,” Guadagnino said. “We had a lot of seniors. There’s just not many years we’ve had so many seniors, and having those kids come up all the way through the youth league and through their senior year, it really helped a lot.”
Kalmus said: “This was a special team, a special group of guys … It was a hell of a ride, but good things come to an end.”
Photo caption: Riverhead’s Kamryn Gill examines his options while being shadowed by Ward Melville’s Robert Kratochvil and watched by goalie Collin Krieg. (Credit: Bob Liepa)