They don't call it Kunkel's Island, but attackmen often get that stranded feeling when they have to go one on one against the long stick of Ward Melville defenseman Matt Kunkel.
The Patriots' returning All-County player did a solid job Wednesday on Long Island's leading scorer, Connetquot's Kieran McArdle, and Ward Melville featured seven goal-scorers in handing the host Thunderbirds their first loss, 10-7. Both teams are 8-1 overall, 6-1 in Suffolk Division I.
"When coach puts me on the other team's best attack, it's an honor to me," said Kunkel, who held McArdle to two goals, one with 15 seconds left, and no assists. McArdle has 55 points, including a Suffolk-best 30 assists.
"He's tough because he can use both hands. He likes to dodge and find the open guys. But we played great team defense. Everyone was talking out there. This team doesn't function without defense."
The Patriots' defense has helped produce two straight victories since a shocking 11-10 loss to Whitman last Thursday. "We took it as a wake-up call," Kunkel said.
Their alarm went off early Wednesday, as Will Mazzone scored on a feed from Kevin McElhone 3:12 into the game. The two hooked up for another goal about a minute later, with McElhone scoring the first of his three. McArdle and Craig Kieran answered for Connetquot late in the first quarter, but after that, Kunkel and Company took the keys out of the T-birds' ignition and the Patriots ran off five straight goals.
"Matt did a good job on one of the better players in the county," Patriots coach Mike Hoppey said. "We got contributions from everyone and possessed the ball as much as we have all year."
If not for the sensational play of Connetquot goalie Zach Oliveri, this one would have been a blowout. Oliveri, a returning All-County player, made 17 saves. He robbed Jimmy Ryan twice, but the two-way midfielder was relentless and wound up with a goal, an assist, numerous ground balls and helped the Patriots gain a distinct territorial advantage.
"Possession is the key for us," McElhone said. "We're known as a transition team, but we can set it up, too, and today we capitalized on some long possessions."
One of those kill-the-clock, kill-the-spirit possessions resulted in a goal by sophomore attack John Edmonds, on a feed from Al Destefano with five seconds left in the first period that gave Ward Melville the lead for good at 3-2. Destefano scored off a Ryan feed early in the second, and Ryan beat Oliveri on a solo dodge from behind the net to make it 6-2 at halftime.
"We played our best game yet," Hoppey said.