After 25 minutes, Suffolk's highest-scoring girls lacrosse team looked more run of the mill than juggernaut.
Sloppy passes in front of the net. Shots clanking off the pipes. And a hounding Northport defense looking to spring an upset. All together, the result was a mere two goals for Middle Country by halftime Friday.
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"We should have at least six!" Nikki Ortega shouted as she walked off Veterans Park's artificial turf in frustration at the end of the first half.
But after a halftime speech by coach Lindsay Dolson that reiterated the initial game plan -- "Don't force shots. Clean looks. See the net. And if we win the draws, we'll win the game." -- Middle Country came out and scored four goals in the opening 3:19 of the second half before finishing off host Northport, 11-4, to improve to 8-0 in Division I.
Nikki Ortega, a senior from Centereach who is committed to Notre Dame and is a member of Team USA's under-19 team, had three goals. Her sister, sophomore Jamie Ortega, who is bound for North Carolina, had five goals and three assists.
Middle Country's Ava Barry, Rachel Masullo and Alison Dipaola each had a goal, counteracting Noelle Peragine's three goals for Northport (3-3). Ashley Miller was terrific in net with 10 saves for Middle Country.
"It was a little bit of an eye-opener early on," Nikki Ortega said. "A good test."
Middle Country entered averaging just more than 18 goals per game. But a few early misses hurt, Dolson said, and it was simply a matter of regaining confidence and remaining unfazed.
"We were outplaying ourselves in a way," Nikki Ortega said. "Not finishing shots and dropping passes. That's on us. That's what we corrected."
As the Ortega sisters' final season as teammates creeps along, the emotion continues to build.
"It hits me all the time. Sometimes midgame," Jamie said. "She's my sister and my teammate, but also my best friend."
Added Dolson: "They're their own biggest supporters. But then again, they're the biggest critics of each other, too. It's been fun to watch."