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Matt Valdini leads Massapequa to Long Island Class A lacrosse title

Massapequa goalkeeper Matt Valdini and midfielder Nick Yevoli

Massapequa goalkeeper Matt Valdini and midfielder Nick Yevoli react as time runs out against Smithtown East in the Class A Long Island boys lacrosse championship game on Saturday, May 31, 2014. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

With a Smithtown East player bearing down on him in the final seconds and his team clinging to a one-goal lead, Massapequa goalie Matt Valdini was prepared to transform himself into Houdini.

"I jumped at it. I was so focused on the ball. If that shot was on target, I was going after the ball, doing anything I could to make the save," Valdini said.

Contortions weren't necessary, as the shot went wide, the clock ran out and soon Valdini was mobbed by teammates as Massapequa pulled off a great escape in outlasting Smithtown East, 13-12, Saturday before an estimated crowd of 4,000 at Hofstra's Shuart Stadium to win its first Long Island Class A championship. "I honestly can't describe the feeling. Spectacular! Awesome! Incredible! Whatever vocabulary word you can think of," said Valdini, who made 10 saves.

One of the saves was especially critical in this exciting shootout featuring two fast-twitch offenses that scored five goals each in a wildly entertaining first quarter. Two minutes into the fourth quarter, Valdini robbed John Daniggelis in front, then triggered the fast break with an outlet pass to Griffin Barnathon (two goals, one assist). Barnathon hit Ian Kirby (three goals, one assist), who scored to give the Chiefs a 12-9 lead.

"I had to step up for my boys. They did everything for me," Valdini said. "We've been talking about this every year since we got here. Time was running out for the seniors."

Brian Willetts, an unstoppable force around the cage with his dodging strength and wicked shot, netted his fifth goal for Smithtown East to make it 12-10. Massapequa (17-2) answered when Barnathon scooped up a ground ball and scored unassisted with 4:39 left. That turned out to be the winner, but there was plenty of drama to come. Smithtown East faceoff wiz Gerard Arceri, who won 20 of 28 draws, gave the Bulls (16-4) extra possessions and extra scoring opportunities down the stretch.

Dan Rooney scored his second with 3:39 left and Daniggelis (one goal, two assists) brought the Bulls (16-4) to within 13-12 with 1:45 left after a fine defensive strip by Ryan Kenney. But the Chiefs were able to hold on -- barely -- to advance to Wednesday's state Class A semifinal against Niskayuna at 3:30 p.m. at Hofstra.

"I'm ecstatic for everyone in Massapequa," said Kirby, who admitted he was tense as he watched the final play unfold in front of him. "I had the jitters. I was nervous. But our goalie came up big."

The victory was especially sweet for seniors such as Kirby, Valdini, Jack Korber (two goals), Craig Berge and Jim Byrns (one goal each) and the starting defense of Matt Caracappa, Nick Capuana and Nick Balzano, who withstood a Bull rush.

"I'm at a loss for words," Massapequa coach Tim Radomski said. "Our defense stayed strong at the end, but holy cow! I was holding my breath."

Then Radomski's voice cracked as he added: "This is special for the coaches, the players and the school. It's a victory for all the guys who played here before."

They were probably holding their breaths at the end, too.

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