For Ward Melville, it was all about surviving a head-on collision.
“We had to put our seatbelts on, buckle up and crawl back,” Patriots senior midfielder Eddie Munoz said of his team’s four-goal first-half deficit.
Ward Melville scored two game-changing goals in the final half minute of the first half and Munoz had a hat trick plus two assists as the Patriots rallied to edge Smithtown East, 9-8, Wednesday in a grueling, exciting Suffolk A championship played before an energized crowd of more than 1,800 at Stony Brook’s LaValle Stadium.
“We were a little frazzled in the beginning. But we’ve been a second-half team all year,” Ward Melville coach Jay Negus said. “We dug in.”
But first, the Patriots (17-2) dug themselves a hole. The Bulls’ Brian Herber won five of the first six faceoffs (and 15 of 19 for the game) to spark a fast start. Mike Latini scored two goals and Connor DeSimone had a goal and assist as Smithtown East (15-4) took a 5-1 lead into the final minute of the first half.
But Ward Melville’s Liam Davenport dodged from behind the cage for an unassisted goal and Zach Hobbes took a feed from Munoz to score with 2.4 seconds left to make it 5-3 at the break. “Those two goals were huge,” senior defenseman Andrew McKenna said, “in terms of momentum and morale.”
McKenna played a key role in the Patriots’ comeback. Tasked with defending DeSimone, Long Island’s leading scorer with 114 points, McKenna held the Smithtown East star to one goal in the second half. That tally tied the game at 7 early in the fourth quarter.
“It was a huge challenge,” McKenna said. “Connor is one of the best players on Long Island. I had a great defense behind me and I was confident the whole game. Our defense and our goalie, Perry Cassidy, played lights out the whole game.”
Munoz set up Noah Kepes in the slot for a big-time go-ahead goal with 4:18 left. “Our middie Dominic Pryor had the ball, drew two defenders and I was open,” Munoz said. “It was a little far out but I was going to take the shot. Then I saw Noah at the crease and he made a great play (reaching for the high pass) and finished.”
Jack Purdy made it 9-7 with 1:45 left on an empty-net goal as Smithtown East sent its goalie out to double-team and try to force a turnover. That goal proved critical when Dominic Pizzulli scored on a feed from Conor Rowan with 22.1 seconds left for the Bulls.
Herber won the faceoff and drew a push-with-possession foul that gave Smithtown East a man advantage for the final 12.1 seconds. The Bulls got off one shot that went wide and the Patriots joyously celebrated their second straight county title and 25th in school history. They will face Massapequa for the Long Island Class A title on Saturday at 10 a.m. at Stony Brook.
“You always want to keep that tradition going,” McKenna said. “It makes us proud to wear the green and gold.”