As the boys lacrosse team jogged off the field Thursday at Half Hollow Hills East, the scoreboard glowing behind them with the 15-2 score by which the Thunderbirds just beat Plainedge, it might have been hard to recall that the rout had once been in doubt.
But that was the case early on, as Plainedge scored first and Hills East looked tight in the teams' non-league season opener.
"I thought we came out and we were nervous," coach Gordon Hodgson said. "A lot of young kids out there. We have eight sophomores and three freshmen, and all of those kids are getting looks. And I think our seniors even were playing very tight."
Marcus Geringswald got a key ground ball that led to Christopher Stupore's tying goal with 7:43 to go in the first. But even after Stupore scored again with 1:01 left, an offense projected to be above average couldn't seem to heat up on the cold, windy early spring day.
"This is our first game out here with jerseys on, so I guess it was just a little game-day jitters," Luke Birnbaum said. "Then we started clicking."
The Thunderbirds scored five consecutive goals in just over five minutes in the second quarter, and fired in another shot before the half to take a strong 8-2 lead into the break.
"It's like a watershed," Hodgson said. "Once one happens, it follows one after another after another."
Following a 7-0 second half, Hills East officially started the year in the win column.
Stupore had four goals and three assists, Matt Garziano scored three goals and Sam Birnbaum, James Reiser and Anthony Ramaizel each had two goals and two assists as part of an offensive attack that outshot Plainedge 39-20. Garziano added five ground balls.
The Thunderbirds missed the postseason by a single game in 2010 and used that as motivation.
"We were one game out and we were really disappointed with that, especially with the team we had," Stupore said. "We wanted to come back and finish strong. We worked really hard during the offseason to get to this point."
Said Birnbaum: "It's definitely a good start, because we ended with a bad taste in our mouth. We lost a couple good guys. But I think our offense should be able to pick it up, and if the defense does its job, we should be back in the playoffs."