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St. John the Baptist finally headed to the final

St. John the Baptist's Sarah Bennett, left, and

St. John the Baptist's Sarah Bennett, left, and Kaitlyn Montalbano celebrate. (Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke)


St. John the Baptist’s recent reputation as that “pretty good, but not on that level” team – it’s history. And they put an end to that on Tuesday by making history.

The second-seeded Cougars beat rival Sacred Heart, 14-9, in the CHSAA Class AA girls lacrosse semifinals, earning their first ever trip to the league title game.

“There was a sense of relief and accomplishment that we’ve come so far and all our hard work has paid off,” coach Janine Pirone said. “The girls finally got that crucial win that we’ve wanted for years.”

Kaitlyn Montalbano scored seven goals, Morgan Jaycox had three goals and three assists and Jill May had three goals and an assist to lead St. John the Baptist (13-4). Virginia Gibbons made 13 saves in the win.

The Cougars will face five-time defending champion St. Anthony’s in the final on Friday, 7 p.m. at Adelphi.

Sacred Heart, the third seed, had reached the final in five straight seasons. In St. John the Baptist's first trip to the semifinals, back in 2011, they took an 19-9 loss at the hands of the Spartans.

This year, the teams split two regular-season games and the Cougars beat Sacred Heart handily in the second meeting on May 3, getting their first win over them in program history. Buoyed by that, SJB entered Tuesday’s game with its confidence at an all-time high.

“There was that feeling of knowing what it was like to beat them,” Pirone said of that regular-season win. “It’s always been them and St. Anthony’s in the final, but we believed this time that we had the skill and talent to change that. Before we stepped on the field, we felt that this wouldn’t be our last game and we had something to prove.”

The proof was in the pounding (figuratively). The Cougars quickly announced themselves, jumping out to a 5-0 lead. The Spartans’ surge late in the first half pulled them within 6-4, but St. John the Baptist regained control midway through the second half and began to pull away.

“It just came together in those last 15 minutes,” Pirone said. “We were creating on offense and getting smart shots, the defense was creating turnovers, and [Gibbons] was making key saves.”

Kathleen Berkery had four goals, Chrissy Corcoran and Kerianne Moran each scored twice, and Kate Mauro made eight saves for Sacred Heart (7-12).

Montalbano excelled despite being face-guarded, Pirone said. The midfielder is Long Island’s third leading scorer with 126 points, but on this stage, in a game of such magnitude, did she show any nerves?

“Nothing,” the coach said. “Besides the seven goals, she kept her head in the game and got over the frustration of being face-guarded.”

In fact, it was business as usual for Montalbano, and the fourth time this season she has scored seven or more goals in a game.

But now comes the most daunting task of all: quickly shaking off the euphoria of this victory and preparing for St. Anthony’s, a team ranked fourth in the country and undefeated in league play. The Friars beat SJB, 20-11, on May 6.

“I think we’ve gotten better since then,” Pirone said. “They’re going to play well because they’re just that good, so we have to set out to play the best game we’ve ever played. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

Something historic.