Ten times West Islip midfielder Paul Cenci shot the ball. Ten times he misfired, hitting either the goalie or the turf.
“I did get very frustrated,” Cenci said, with a deep sigh. “But coach [Scott] Craig taught us not to get too worked up over it and just keep going.”
Cenci’s persistence was rewarded. His 11th shot, a righty, overhand bouncer down the right alley, tied the score and his 13th shot, a lefty, overhand bouncer down the left alley with 2:12 left in the first overtime, gave the host Lions a thrilling 6-5 victory over Half Hollow Hills East Tuesday. Both playoff-bound teams are 10-3 in Suffolk I.
“The defense gave me the open alley with my left hand,” Cenci said. “It feels pretty good to score the game-winning goal when the hand that the defense wanted me to use. But I’ve been working on my off hand in practice all year. It’s something the coaches really slammed home to us — to be good with both hands.”
Overtime was a fitting place to decide this one. Neither team held a two-goal lead and both played exceptional defense. West Islip goalie Jared Paquette made 10 saves, including two tough ones in a two-minute stretch of the third quarter that prevented the Thunderbirds from taking the lead.
Hills East goalie Evan Stallone made 11 saves and had his team in position to win when Mike Monitto made a gutsy dodge into traffic in front of Paquette, spun around and somehow fired a low bullet into the back of the net to put the Thunderbirds ahead 5-4 with 1:14 left.
But Dylan Pape (10 of 14) won the critical faceoff, allowing West Islip to call timeout. “We called, ‘Stony Brook,’ where we hold the ball and try to get a good shot,” Cenci said. “I saw a mismatch, a guy who wasn’t fast enough or strong enough to stay on me. I just shot it on the run.”
Pape won the next faceoff, too, and the Lions had two shots at winning it in regulation. But Stallone stopped the last one at the buzzer. However, the West Islip shooter, Bobby Arena, drew an unnecessary roughness penalty, allowing the Lions to start overtime with possession, which they maintained until the sudden-death goal.
“We had two good shots in the man-up. The opportunity was there but we didn’t put the ball away,” Craig said.
Cenci finally did, turning mounting frustration into joyful fulfillment.