From behind the cage, Jack Walsh surveys the field — looking, always looking. Where once Walsh finished plays from out front for Miller Place, this season he has become a feeder. But his appetite to be involved in scoring plays remains. And the Panthers are winning Walsh’s hunger games.
“We have so many scorers, we needed someone to draw the defense and get the ball to their sticks,” Miller Place coach Keith Lizzi said.
Walsh followed up a seven-assist performance Saturday against Eastport-South Manor with a five-assist effort yesterday as host Miller Place defeated Westhampton, 11-7, in a Suffolk II game. He has a Long Island-leading 43 assists to go along with 18 goals, making him the No. 2 scorer in Suffolk.
“I like it better from behind than up top,” Walsh said of playing the ‘X’ spot. “We have shooters all around, with no weak links. I just pick my spots.”
The Panthers (8-2) have six other players who have double-digit goals, and Walsh got them involved yesterday. Kevin Gersbeck had a hat trick while Anthony Beck, Joe Bartolotto and Patrick Doyen scored two goals each. “I like assists more than goals,” said Walsh, a senior who has totaled 55 goals and 81 assists in his three varsity seasons.
That was evident early against a gritty Westhampton team that fell to 3-6 despite hat tricks from Chris Merle and Craig Connor and was playing without three injured or ill starters. Walsh set up Bartolotto, Doyen and Anthony Seymour for goals in the first three minutes as the Panthers built a 5-1 lead and were never seriously threatened.
In the fourth quarter, with the Hurricanes hanging around at 9-6, Walsh delivered pinpoint passes to Gersbeck in the slot and Doyen in front for goals that put the game out of reach.
“He controls the ball behind the cage and our offense runs through him,” Lizzi said of Walsh, who has committed to Stony Brook. “He has great vision and great touch. He always dodges with his head up. And because he’s a scoring threat, someone is always open.”
Even when Miller Place’s defense faltered a bit in the second half, senior goalie Matt Leen, a first-year starter, provided insurance with 16 saves. “We returned eight of 10 starters and goalie was a question mark,” Lizzi said. “But Matt has been consistent, and in a game like today, he made some big saves.”
After facing a barrage of shots, Leen said, “It’s good to get a lot of saves and build a little confidence during the game, but I’d rather see the ball in the other end of the field.”
Where it winds up on Walsh’s stick, and the feeding frenzy begins.