Wildcats are Suffolk County champs!

For the first time since 2019, the Shoreham-Wading River boys lacrosse team has been crowned Suffolk County Class C Champions with a 10-7 victory over the No. 1 seed Mount Sinai Tuesday afternoon. It was a classic David vs. Goliath moment at Stony Brook University’s Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium.

Enter Mount Sinai, the Goliath – winners of Suffolk County’s Division II and No. 1 Class C playoff seed, a perennially ranked national lacrosse powerhouse, reigning Suffolk County Class C champions with a spotless 17-0 record coming into the game.

Then there’s the Wildcats — a team that snuck into third place after losing four games in a row during a mid-season rough patch. A team that always had the talent but was missing an identity. A team that lost on this very field last season, 16-5 against Mount Sinai. The cards were stacked against them. But their will to win, their desire to be great and their ability to play as one bled through their veins as it was David that eventually emerged victorious.

The team gathered by the goal pregame, forming a circle so tight, there was no space to breathe. Captains mouthed off to their team, urging them to stay focused, stick to the game plan and most importantly, have fun.

“We just made it known that we’re a family, no matter what,” senior captain Alec Gregorek said. “That we want it more than them. That if we all did our part, we would come out with a win.”

Emerging out of the huddle, roars echoed through the stadium as the Wildcats were hyped, carrying that emotion into the opening minutes of the game.

“The goal was to get out in front early, keep the momentum our way and keep the ball as much as we could,” SWR head coach Mike Taylor said. 

Part of the Wildcats’ struggles in their losing streak was getting off to a slow start. To get behind against a dominant team like Mount Sinai would have been a death sentence. But to their credit, SWR landed the first punch.

Alec Gregorek broke through with the team’s first goal of the game just over a minute into the game and Liam Kershis followed 30 seconds after with a goal of his own. Kershis would later score again to make it 3-0 after the first quarter.

“It was a great win last week but it wasn’t enough for us,” Kershis said. “There’s so many hard working guys on this team. I wasn’t ready for this season to end. Nobody was.”

As Mt. Sinai tried to muster a goal to end the SWR onslaught, the ball kept finding the netting of Jaden Galfano’s stick. The junior was quick and accurate in his decision-making, keeping the Mustangs off the board until the second quarter. Galfano finished the game with 15 saves.

“I think this was the most locked in I’ve ever been in a game,” Galfano said. The goaltender said he picked up some tips in texts back-and-forth with Notre Dame net-minder and recent national champion Liam Entenmann. “Everything he said really resonated with me and helped me. It’s a blessing to know a guy that plays this game at such a high level.”

Though Mount Sinai kept winning the draws behind one of the best face-off guys on Long Island in Jake Spallina, it was the defense that kept coming up with crucial stops.

“I told the team before the game that our big guys are always going to do their thing,” Taylor said. “The key to beating a team like this is that some of our other guys will need to make plays. Even if it’s just one play.”

Kieran Clifford knocked a ball away on more than one occasion. Liam Taylor came away with some turnovers. Daniel Greene laid the smackdown when necessary. It took an army to stop Mount Sinai offense. 

With the Mustangs’ troubles on offense simmering on one end, it was the complete opposite for the Wildcats. SWR just kept scoring, most of it in transition. Coming off a turnover or immediately following a face-off win, when the defense is scrambling back, the Wildcat offense is lethal.

“It’s absolutely unstoppable,” Kershis said. “There’s not one midfielder out there that can stop the ball when we’re moving like that. We’re quick and any one of us can find the back of the net.”

“We noticed that Mount Sinai plays with a limited number of players in the midfield,” Taylor added. “These guys are constantly going end to end without coming off the field. We thought if we could push tempo right away, we could tire them out and beat them in transition. And I think that happened three or four times today.”

Steven Cain scored two goals as the Wildcats piled onto their lead, extending it to as much as 8-2 to the end of the third quarter. It looked like the Wildcats would run away with the victory. But it was just a matter of time before the sleeping giant woke up.

Mount Sinai (17-1) scored the first two goals of the 4th quarter to spring life into their crowd. Kershis answered soon after with his fourth goal of the game, but the Mustangs kept coming.

“That team is crazy good,” Taylor said. “I was holding my breath to the very end. They started to go on their run and got real nervous.”

A Mustang goal made it 9-5, and then 9-6. Before you knew it a two goal deficit remained with 2:48 remaining in the game. Nerves started to creep in. You could only hold off this team for so long.

“It was the defense that came up clutch in that moment,” Taylor said. “They won us the game.”

Two consecutive failed offensive possessions, thwarted by aggressive stick work and quick reflexes culminated in one last transition attack. And it was Kershis who stuck the final dagger into the Mustangs with his fifth goal of the game.

“Our slump during the season was the best thing that happened to us,” Taylor said. “It made us realize hero ball isn’t going to work. We had guys that thought they always had to win it for the team. That’s just not the case. To play championship lacrosse, you have to play as one. What you’re seeing now is a team that trusts one another.”

The Wildcats will now advance to the Long Island Class C final on Saturday against the winner of the Nassau County Class C final between Manhasset and Wantagh.

“This is for our seniors,” Galfano said. “And our guys that graduated last year and lost in the championship. We’re doing this for them. We’re a family. We win with our brothers on and off the field.”