The difference between the Smithtown East and Riverhead high school girls lacrosse teams is razor thin, with one notable exception: Riverhead has Megan Kielbasa on its side.
Without question, Smithtown East has seen enough of Kielbasa this season. On April 13, Kielbasa was the difference, scoring the overtime goal to bring Riverhead a 14-13 victory over the Bulls. On Monday, the stakes were much higher. Kielbasa once again came through with a sudden-victory overtime winner, this time from a free-position shot, lifting Riverhead to a 13-12 Suffolk County Class A quarterfinal triumph over visiting Smithtown East at Pulaski Sports Complex.
Riverhead (11-6) pulled itself out of the fire in the form of an 8-4 halftime hole, taking the lead for the first time when Kielbasa put in her fourth goal of the game (all from free-position attempts) off goalie Kate Cosgrove’s shoulder 10.9 seconds before the three-minute overtime period was to expire.
“I put it right over her shoulder,” said Kielbasa, a junior midfielder. “It skimmed off her shoulder. I got so lucky.”
Some Blue Waves literally jumped for joy while the Bulls (11-5) looked devastated after having outplayed Riverhead for much of the game.
“I was ecstatic,” Riverhead defensive midfielder Emma Conroy (three goals) said. “It’s the greatest feeling.”
Riverhead earned the right to return to the semifinal stage for a second straight year. The fourth-seeded Blue Waves will play No. 1 Middle Country (15-2) Thursday at Newfield High School.
“It brings us back to where we ended last June in the final four,” said Kielbasa.
But not before Kielbasa came through with one of the biggest goals in her team’s nine-year history.
What was Kielbasa thinking as she lined up for her shot?
“I was thinking, honestly, ‘If I miss this, I kind of stink,’ ” she said, chuckling.
Kielbasa also assisted on Lauren Kenny’s goal that tied the score at 12-12 with 2:42 left in the second half. Kenny had three assists herself.
An apparent go-ahead goal by Smithtown East’s Sophia DeNicola with 47.1 seconds to go in regulation time was waved off because of an illegal stick.
Right before the horn sounded, ending the second half, Riverhead’s Chrissy Thomas (two goals, one assist) took a shot that was saved by Cosgrove.
Just getting to overtime was a minor victory for Riverhead, considering how things started. The first half wasn’t promising for the Blue Waves. Alayna Costa scored three of her five goals for Smithtown East in the opening 25 minutes as the Bulls went 9-for-13 on draw controls. They finished the game with a 20-7 advantage in draw controls, eight of them going to Amanda Moghadasi.
“They throw back the same talent that we have,” said Kielbasa.
No. 5 seed Smithtown East dominated possession, allowing Riverhead to make only occasional forays into the Bulls’ half of the field.
“It wasn’t looking good,” said Riverhead coach Ashley Schandel, whose team was still without midfielder Delu Rizzo, who suffered a fractured wrist against Smithtown East last month.
But Riverhead turned things around, firing in the first three goals of the second half through Kayla Kielbasa (two goals), her sister Megan and Thomas. Riverhead went on to even the score three times before forcing overtime.
“We didn’t want to give up,” Conroy said. “We knew we could handle this team.”
The pendulum of emotions swung dramatically for Riverhead.
“When you get to this point in the playoffs, the playoffs is all about execution and who wants it more,” Schandel said. “Clearly, by the score and the way it was going, it was anybody’s game.”
Caleigh Kalmus also scored for Riverhead and Sofia Salgado made seven saves.
Ava Arceri (two goals, one assist) and DeNicola (two goals) helped fuel a Smithtown East attack that also received goals from Moghadasi, Gabrielle Schneider (six draw controls) and Isabella Costa.
In the end, though, it came down to Megan Kielbasa’s proficiency at free-position shots.
“She always gets her free-position shots, even in practice,” Conroy said. “We never doubt her. She’s our go-to girl.”
Photo caption: Riverhead’s Megan Kielbasa and Emma Conroy, from left, react with joy following Kielbasa’s game-winning goal while Smithtown East’s Alayna Costa (7) and Gabrielle Schneider (2) have a different reaction. (Credit: Bob Liepa)