For Nick Aponte, it was think or swim.
The energetic West Islip midfielder got stuffed by Niskayuna goalie Evan Quinn the first time he tried the swim dodge, so when he raced downfield in the closing seconds of the third quarter, he switched tactics. "This time, I faked the swim move and stutter-stepped and came over the top," Aponte said.
That goal, with 5.9 seconds left in the third quarter, provided a three-goal cushion and propelled West Islip to a 9-6 victory over Niskayuna Wednesday night in the Class A state semifinals at Hofstra's Shuart Stadium. The Lions (20-1) will face Ithaca on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at Middletown High School, trying to win their fifth Class A state title. Niskayuna finished 20-2.
Aponte scored two goals and added three assists. Tom Moore, Brendan Smith and Anthony DeLuca also scored two goals each. Paul Riportella (9 of 11) helped West Islip win 14 of 18 faceoffs and Anthony Santo anchored a stifling defense.
"That's a good shooting team. We wanted to be on their hands and play physical," Santo said. He played man-to-man on attack Matt Sexton, who scored just one goal. "It was an unsettled situation," Santo pointed out, secure in the knowledge that when matched up with Sexton, he held his man scoreless.
"Anthony had a big game," West Islip coach Scott Craig said. "We thought Sexton was the guy who made them tick. He's a top 30 guy. Anthony did an outstanding job on him."
West Islip led 4-1 at halftime, as goalie Jack Kelly made five of his eight saves in a fast-paced second quarter. But Niskayuna cut the margin to 5-4 with 6:20 left in the third. The final minute of the period proved pivotal.
In a man-up situation, Smith faked a pass back to the midfield and instead whipped the ball across the slot to a cutting Moore, who finished. Aponte then provided a 7-4 advantage with his unassisted goal. "They had some momentum and we had to kill it," Aponte said.
DeLuca, on a feed from Aponte, and Aponte, unassisted into an empty net, scored in the fourth quarter as the Lions maintained a comfortable lead. "We didn't have that second-half burst we sometimes have," Aponte said, "but we moved the ball and stayed in control."
In other words, things went swimmingly.