MIDDLETOWN, N.Y. -- In the postgame euphoria of yet another state championship, West Islip defenseman Anthony Santo bear-hugged his friend, midfielder Nick Aponte, lifted him off the ground and carried him around for a few seconds, the two seniors allowing the moment of their final game as teammates linger for a few more seconds. But in truth, it was Aponte who carried the Lions during key stretches Saturday.
Aponte had three goals and four assists as West Islip scored six straight goals in the third quarter and went on to defeat Ithaca, 12-7, to win the Class A state boys lacrosse championship for the fifth time in the last seven years.
Latest HS sports stories
"There's nothing I can say to describe this," the Penn State-bound Aponte said. "To accomplish this with kids I've been friends with K through 12 is so emotional. I'm in shock."
As has been their tendency all season in big games, the Lions (21-1) started slowly, falling behind 2-0 after the first quarter and clinging to a 4-3 advantage at halftime.
"We always come out a little flat. I don't know why," said Anthony DeLuca, who along with fellow senior Tom Moore matched Aponte with three goals each. "But we have so much firepower, it's hard to stop us. A lot of guys can take it to the goal. If it's not your turn to dodge, it's your turn to finish."
The finishing touches on the program's latest state championship were applied during a brilliant third-quarter fireworks display. Aponte broke a 4-4 tie with a low-to-high rocket off a feed from Jon Reese (one goal, one assist). Moore finished on a slick feed from behind by Aponte, fed DeLuca after a forced turnover by Brendan Smith, then scored twice more on feeds from Aponte and DeLuca. Aponte made it 10-4 with 4:16 left in the third after a pass from Santo.
"We were so confident going into the third quarter. We did not want a close game," said Aponte, named MVP of the championship contest.
Goalie Jack Kelly (14 saves, named defensive player of the game) kept it close in the first half, when the Little Red (18-2) applied steady pressure. After halftime, the pressure came from West Islip. "Our defense kept us on edge and we were much more relaxed in the third quarter," Kelly said.
The Lions also controlled the faceoffs with seniors Reese (9-for-10) and Paul Riportella (8-for-11) combining to win 17 of 21 draws. "That was a key to the game," West Islip coach Scott Craig said. "Both of our faceoff guys are put together and we outmuscled them."
They also improved their shooting accuracy in the second half. "We had good looks in the first quarter but we couldn't put it in. Reese had three open looks and was snake-bit," Craig said. "When Jon scored in the second quarter, that got us going."
Mostly, it was the seniors who got going when West Islip needed it most. "There were a couple of seniors who had a role on the 2010 team," Craig said, "but this was a senior group that taught itself how to win. They won a county championship last year and they weren't satisfied."
Kelly, a Brown-bound senior who was a backup goalie on the 2010 title team, was ecstatic that he ended his career by hoisting the state championship plaque. "Twelve years of work with all your friends and it comes down to this," Kelly said. "It's West Islip once again."