In a sport in which possession is king, the Middle Country girls lacrosse team had the penultimate possession, and that’s what ultimately did Riverhead in.
Riverhead suffered several blows at once when eighth-grader Kate Timarky scored while being fouled to put Middle Country ahead, 9-8, with 2 minutes, 27 seconds remaining in the Suffolk County Class A semifinal at Newfield High School’s Nick DeCillis Field Thursday. Not only did the Wolverines go up a goal, but one of Riverhead’s best players, midfielder Megan Kielbasa, was shown her second yellow card of the game. That not only meant she was done for the day, but it also gave Middle Country a one-player advantage and automatic possession of the ball, which is HUGE.
“It hurt,” said Riverhead attack Chrissy Thomas.
Middle Country coach Lindsay Dolson called timeout with 1:51 left. “I told them that we are going to possess the ball for a minute and 51 seconds,” she said. “They did not do that. They possessed it for a minute and 47 seconds, but it was enough to get it done.”
Riverhead held the ball only one more time — with four seconds left — deep in its own end before making a desperate long pass forward. The game ended 9-8, sending top-seeded Middle Country (16-2) on to its first Suffolk final since 2017 when the Wolverines won their only county title. Middle Country will face No. 2 Northport (17-1) May 30 at Farmingdale State College.
Meanwhile, the fourth-seeded Blue Waves (11-7) were sent home.
It was Dolson’s birthday, celebrated after the game by her players, who enjoyed cupcakes. “A nice birthday gift,” she said of the victory. “Just what I wanted.”
Not what Riverhead wanted, though. The Blue Waves, making their second straight county semifinal appearance after never having advanced that far before in their nine-year varsity history, shed tears and consoled each other afterward.
“It was our game to win and I’m kind of speechless because we should be the ones going to the county championship, absolutely,” Riverhead coach Ashley Schandel said. “I mean, you could tell by the score. It seems like anybody’s game, but it absolutely should have been ours. We were destroying the ride. We were coming up with caused turnovers. We had the possession. We did great on the draw. Everything was followed perfectly, according to plan.”
Until things changed.
Riverhead fell behind four times (including 3-0 at the start) before tying the score three times. Aside from that 3-0 start, it was mostly a one-goal game, except for when Sydney Juvelier and Timarky scored for a 6-4 Middle Country lead early in the second half. Riverhead pulled ahead at 7-6 and 8-7 on free-position shots by Megan Kielbasa and her sister, Kayla.
“It felt like an uphill battle the whole game and then finally we were on top,” said Thomas, who had two goals and two assists.
Then, that Middle Country girl struck again. Timarky’s unassisted goal with 5:11 to go evened things at 8-8 before she then came through with her decisive fourth goal (she also had two assists).
“The momentum went back and forth and back and forth,” said Dolson.
Riverhead’s last real scoring chance came with 4:49 left when a close-range shot by Emma Conroy was well-saved by Elizabeth Pomaro (12 saves).
In the end, Middle Country played an expert game of keepaway. Riverhead goalie Sofia Salgado (nine saves) left her goal unguarded to chase after the ball with 1:13 to go, but the Wolverines didn’t bite.
Middle Country had two goals from Sophie Alois, one goal and two assists by Juvelier, one goal and one assist by Sydney Corley and a goal by Alexa Cordingley.
“We wanted it pretty bad and we just got one bad break and that’s that,” said Kayla Kielbasa, a senior middie who scored three goals in her final game for Riverhead. “There’s not much you can do about it. It definitely doesn’t feel great because we feel that we deserve it just as much as they do, if not more.”
Megan Kielbasa scored twice. The other Riverhead goal came from Lauren Kenny.
As talented as Riverhead is, it wasn’t an easy season for the Blue Waves, who were rocked by injuries. Junior midfielder Delu Rizzo played Thursday after missing most of the season with a fractured wrist.
“My heart breaks for this team because we deserve to be the team going on,” Schandel said, “and I say that confidently because I know that my team should be in the county championship.”
It was a farewell for Kayla Kielbasa, a five-year varsity player who will next play for Penn State.
“For me it’s absolutely heartbreaking to lose this game because it was the last time I’ll ever get to play with my younger sister, Megan, and that’s what I’m going to miss most, playing with her,” she said. “It’s been a long five years and it’s sad to say goodbye.”
Photo caption: Riverhead attack Chrissy Thomas (two goals, two assists) cuts through the Middle Country defense in the second half. (Credit: Bob Liepa)