It was a play they ran even before they could read a playbook. So it's no wonder that when Jake McCulloch found an opening on the left wing, Danny Bucaro made the right read and hit his friend with a perfect pass.
"We grew up together. We've run that play since kindergarten," Bucaro said.
As seniors, they ran it again on Friday. McCulloch ripped home the shot with 1:19 left to give Ward Melville an electrifying 11-10 victory over Northport in a Suffolk Class A boys lacrosse semifinal before a huge crowd that spilled over onto the hill overlooking the turf field at Veterans Park in East Northport.
What a show they saw. Each team had a 5-0 scoring burst and the Patriots survived despite the spectacular work on faceoffs by Maryland-bound senior Austin Henningsen, who won 22 of 25 draws for Northport.
"When you're losing faceoffs, you've got to value every possession and take advantage of your scoring opportunities," said the Cornell-bound McCulloch, who had three goals and an assist as Ward Melville (17-2) advanced to Wednesday's Suffolk Class A final against Smithtown East at Stony Brook University.
About 30 seconds before McCulloch's game-winner, Northport (17-2) had a chance to take the lead. Nick Roros (three goals) circled around the cage for a wraparound but was stuffed by goalie D.J. Kellerman.
After a timeout, the Patriots sent Bucaro (one goal, four assists) to operate from behind the cage. As the play unfolded, Bucaro, who is headed to Georgetown, reverted to the ABCs of lacrosse. "I drew the double-team and just looked for Jake," Bucaro said. "We know where each other will be. Jake is the best shooter in the country."
McCulloch got time and room to shoot because of his buddy. "When Danny has the ball, he always draws a lot of attention," McCulloch said. "They looked like they were switching from a man to a zone and I looked for the soft spot."
Ward Melville took a 10-7 lead late in the third quarter by scoring five straight goals, including two by Connor Grippe.
But in the fourth, Northport responded. Roros made it 10-8 off a pass from Jake Carroll before Mike Trainor took over. He was wearing a different jersey (No. 10 instead of No. 3) because he had worn the other one out. And on Friday, he wore out the net.
Trainor scored unassisted on a high blast into the right corner, then cut to the slot and took another slick feed from Carroll to tie it at 10 with 6:58 left.
Trainor came close to putting Northport back on top near the end of a man-up opportunity, but Kellerman came up big.
Then it was play time for the kindergarten kids.
Smithtown East 17, Smithtown West 11: Brian Willetts and Dan Rooney each had four goals and an assist and Sean Barry had two goals and four assists as Smithtown East (17-1) beat Smithtown West in a Suffolk Class A semifinal. Connor DeSimone, John Daniggelis and Luke Eschbach had two goals each for East. Dan Caroussos (two assists), Matt Miller and Jarrod Wilkom each scored twice for West.
Willetts has 311 career points, breaking the school record of 310 set by Matt Hull in 2007, according to East coach Jason Lambert.
"It was just a matter of us being able to play our game like we played all year," he said. "Regardless of who the opponent is, you feel fortunate to be here.''