Ward Melville’s long poles have a short memory. You might beat them to a ground ball once, but probably not a second time.
“We pride ourselves on ground balls,” defenseman Frank Ciniglio said. “After every practice, we do some kind of ground-ball drill.”
Those drills created thrills in the third quarter when Ward Melville won the ground-ball battle, scored four goals and went on to an 8-5 victory over Massapequa Saturday in the Long Island Class A championship at Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium.
Matt Grillo scored two goals for the state champion Patriots (19-1), who will face Niskayuna in the downstate semifinals on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at Adelphi. Massapequa goalie Mike Venezia was spectacular with 14 saves. Kevin Lynskey scored two goals and Angelo Petrakis won 11 of 17 faceoffs for the Chiefs (17-2).
“In the second half we attacked the ground balls and our poles did a great job of picking up the ball and running the field,” Patriots coach Jay Negus said.
Long-stick middle Ethan Larson gobbled up five ground balls and LSM Pat O’Neill had three. Defenseman Alex Mazzone scooped two grounders and caused two turnovers. “We changed our mindset because we knew we needed to win ground balls to win this game,” O’Neill said. “Ground balls are a matter of who wants in more.”
After a ground-ball win on the opening faceoff of the second half, O’Neill darted in on Venezia, made a stick fake and scored to give Ward Melville a 3-1 lead. “Pat’s goal really fired us up,” Ciniglio said. “Whenever the poles score a goal, we all get excited.”
There’s even a game-within-the-game for the Patriots’ long-stickers. “We have a friendly competition going,” Ciniglio said. “We keep track of who has how many goals. And we tease each other about it. How many is that for you Pat?”
O’Neill, standing nearby, said it was his fourth. So who leads this category? “I’ve got five, that’s the most,” Ciniglio said with a modest grin.
Liam Davenport beat Venezia with a bouncer off a feed from Dylan Pallonetti to give Ward Melville a 4-1 lead with 10:33 left in the third. But Venezia robbed Pallonetti and Grillo in the third quarter from close range and made an absolute stunner of a save on Grillo early in the fourth. That kept the Chiefs in the game and they cut it to 6-4 in the fourth when Petrakis scored off the opening faceoff.
Ryan Pallonetti went down the left alley uncontested for a goal that made it 7-4 with 7:14 left. Massapequa answered on a bouncer by Lynskey 34 seconds later. But the Patriots iced it when Dylan Pallonetti’s hard shot was snared by Venezia high, but when he made a quick pivot hoping to trigger the fastbreak, the ball popped into the net.
“We were a little sloppy in the first half,” Negus said, “but I was happy with our second-half response. We played with more energy.”
Especially in their ground game.