This wasn’t the running — or the gunning — of the Bulls.
This was an altogether different Smithtown East style.
“We call it basketball rules. Don’t take the first shot, take the best shot,” said Smithtown East senior midfielder Connor DeSimone.
DeSimone scored two goals with two assists and fully bought into a new strategy adapted for Thursday night’s Suffolk A semifinal against rival Smithtown West. Fittingly, it was DeSimone who ran out the last half minute as East survived, 7-5, to advance to the Suffolk A championship game against Ward Melville on Wednesday at 3 p.m. at Stony Brook.
“The last game they outshot us 35-17,” DeSimone said of a 7-5 West victory on April 10. “We’re an athletic group, so throw a different game plan at us and we can handle it.”
DeSimone scored two first-quarter goals and Luke Eschbach (two goals, two assists) added another as East built a quick 3-0 lead. After that, very little about its offense was quick. “Usually we’re run-and-gun,” coach Jason Lambert said after Smithtown East improved to 15-3. “But we were very concerned about their faceoff guy [Conor Calderone] and their goalie [Ryan Erler]. If we were going to lose faceoffs we couldn’t have quick possessions. We couldn’t let him save the first shot.”
That was clearly evident when East ran off the final five minutes of a scoreless second quarter, not taking a shot until the final seconds. During that flurry, Erler made a pair of spectacular saves and Eschbach’s behind-the-back bullet rang off the post.
Dominic Pizzulli, Bobby Burns and Mike Latini scored third-quarter goals as East built a 7-2 lead. But West (13-5) suddenly got hot. Danny Riley scored twice, sandwiched around a goal by Jimmy Caddigan, to make it 7-5 with 7:23 left.
But Brian Herber outdueled Calderone on the ensuing faceoff and East went back to draining the clock. West had one empty possession before East got the ball back with 4:51 left. DeSimone, Burns and others took turns dodging and running — but not shooting, even with Erler out of the cage on double-teams.
DeSimone acknowledged that East’s impatience was a factor in blowing a big lead in a 13-12 semifinal loss to Connetquot last year. “We practiced being patient all week,” said DeSimone, who leads Long Island with 111 points. “We didn’t take the first shot and we didn’t try to thread the needle on our passes.”
But they made their point.