BALTIMORE - Kyle Rhatigan did not go to tiny Gaffney, South Carolina, for the Italian food. "There's one Italian restaurant. Well, they call it Italian. It's not Mamma Lombardi's," said Rhatigan, a Sachem North graduate from Holbrook, home of the popular Long Island eatery.
No, Rhatigan, like 10 other Long Islanders, came to Limestone for the lacrosse. Sunday, he added some spice to a winning recipe that included a dash of Canadians, a dollop of upstate kids and a pinch of Maryland players who totally dominated a team primarily comprised of Long Island players, LIU Post, to win the NCAA Division II men's lacrosse championship with a tasty 12-6 victory before a crowd of 22,219 at M & T Bank Stadium.
"It's a dream come true," said Rhatigan, the Saints' leading scorer who had a goal and two assists to finish with 36 goals and 70 points. Teammate Vinny Ricci, from British Columbia, scored four goals.
Matty Beccaris scored two goals for LIU Post (11-6) and his former North Babylon teammate Ryan Slane had a goal and an assist.
Beccaris and Anthony Berardis scored early to give the Pioneers a 2-1 lead through the first quarter, but in the second quarter, Limestone took 13 shots, gobbled up 11 ground balls and, most importantly, scored seven goals to take an 8-4 halftime lead. LIU Post never got closer.
Ricci scored three goals in the second period and Rhatigan contributed an assist on one of them.
"We're a young team and maybe we tried to force things a little bit," LIU Post coach John Jez said of his squad that was 6-5 before winning five straight to reach the title game. Nine of the Pioneers' starters plus their faceoff specialist are underclassmen. "Once we had to fight back from that deficit in the second quarter, it was tough to overcome."
Beccaris, a sophomore, was clearly disappointed, but found solace in LIU Post's turnaround and bright future. "A good team really shows their potential when you hit a rough spot and you have to deal with adversity, like when you're 6-and-5," he said. "You can take that negative energy and make it positive and bounce back. I think we can take this in a positive direction for next season instead of beating ourselves up."
The Pioneers were unable to rally in the second half because Limestone's Kevin Reisman was 4-for-4 on faceoffs (though only 11 of 21 overall) against fellow West Babylon graduate Dom Mantovani.
Rhatigan scored a third-quarter goal to help the Saints take a 10-5 advantage into the fourth quarter and they were on their way to their first national title since 2002 and third overall. It's that winning tradition that first attracted Rhatigan.
"I didn't want to go someplace else and lose to Johns Hopkins all the time," he said. "I wanted to compete for a championship. I played against Beccaris and Slane in high school and they congratulated me after the game."
Three Long Island kids for whom winning lacrosse is always on the menu.