The coach who guided Ward Melville to its first 22 Suffolk County championships gave a brief pep talk to the 2013 team before Wednesday night's game. "Let's bring the title back where it belongs," said retired Patriots coach and New York state Hall of Famer Joe Cuozzo.
Ward Melville (19-0) did just that, scoring seven straight goals to pull away from Smithtown West, 11-6, and bring coach Mike Hoppey, a Cuozzo assistant, his first Class A county championship and the school's first since 2000.
Brendan Hegarty scored two goals and contributed three assists and Danny Bucaro scored three goals for Ward Melville, which this week became the nation's No. 1-ranked team, according to Inside Lacrosse. The Patriots will face Massapequa for the Long Island championship 7 p.m. on Saturday at Hofstra.
"To come so close for so long and not to have won for so many years, this is pretty special,'' Hoppey said. "I'm so happy for this team. They started out as a good team and became a great one.''
The game may have turned late in the first half when Ward Melville goalie Danny Nemirov made a spectacular save to rob Patrick O'Brien. The game was tied at 4 at the time. But after Nemirov's clearing pass, Christian Mazzone (two goals, two assists) made a nifty dodge-and-spin move to score with 11 seconds left to give the Patriots a 5-4 halftime lead.
"Going into the half with a lead means a lot,'' said senior captain Jack Bruckner, who scored the tying goal and was a two-way force all night.
"Danny's save was huge,'' Hoppey said. "We go into the half up 5-4 instead of down 5-4. It changed the momentum of the game.''
The Pats broke it open with four unanswered goals in the third quarter for a 9-4 lead, including tallies by Mazzone and Bucaro just 15 seconds apart. The dagger came when Jake Kepes picked up the rebound on a Hegarty blast and scored with 0.5 seconds left.
In 45 seasons of varsity lacrosse, Ward Melville has reached the county finals a remarkable 36 times. After kissing the latest championship plaque, Bruckner exclaimed, "This means the world to us."