For much of the first quarter, Garden City played like a team appearing in the Long Island championship for the first time . . . even though the Trojans have been here for eight consecutive years. "We came out a little jittery," junior Cody George said.
But nervousness was a temporary condition. Soon, Garden City went from jitters to hitters -- forcing turnovers with body checks and hitting the net with regularity.
Justin Guterding scored three goals, George and Lucas Clay added two apiece as the Trojans won their fourth consecutive LI Class B championship, 9-4, over Miller Place Saturday at Hofstra's Shuart Stadium.
"Obviously, there were nerves in the first quarter," Guterding said. "But then we started rolling. Hofstra is like our second home."
Guterding scored the game's first goal on a solo dodge from behind the cage and finished the Trojans' four-goal second quarter with a blast from the wing that made it 5-1. "We calmed down," George said.
Garden City (17-3), the defending state champion, will play Niskayuna in the state Class B semifinals at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday at Marist College in Poughkeepsie. Miller Place (14-6), fresh off winning its first county title in just its fourth varsity season, actually was playing in its first LIC and had its own case of the jitters early. After that, it was just too much Garden City.
George, Dale Stasco and Clay joined Guterding with second-quarter goals and the Panthers never got closer than 5-2 on James Nielsen's goal with 26.8 seconds left in the half.
"We're playing at a high level and sharing the ball well," Garden City coach Steve Finnell said. "Justin is the catalyst."
Guterding said that early in the season, "I was trying to do too much and coach Finnell told me one single thing: Make everyone better."
So in addition to finishing with 52 goals, Guterding has been feeding for 39 assists. "He makes us all better," said George, who scored his second goal on a pass from Guterding.
Only the goaltending of Matt Liantonio, with nine saves, kept the Trojans from building a lead any bigger than 9-2. Liantonio also gave the Panther fans a thrill by making a fourth-quarter save, weaving his way downfield and feeding Jake Buonaiuto for a goal.
He wasn't the only defensive specialist who contributed on offense. Garden City's Ed Blatz, who along with Scott D'Anto- nio anchors a strong unit, raced the length of the field to score a goal with 50.2 seconds left in the third quarter to make it 7-2.
"I think I've scored eight or nine goals in my career and each one has been different," Blatz said. "It's great to put one in because it helps the offense and the defense."
The Trojans were horses on defense right from the start, seemingly immune to the nerves that plagued the offense.
"Sometimes our offense starts slowly," Blatz said. "Our goal from the start was to shut them down early and cause turnovers. That creates more possessions for our offense."
For Miller Place, it was nerve-wracking.