MIDDLETOWN, N.Y. — D.J. Kellerman, Ward Melville’s standout goalie, had to sit down. He chugged water and had a wet towel draped around his neck as he talked about the Patriots’ gallant last stand.
“We got fatigued in the first half and the second half just killed us,” Kellerman said after Ward Melville fell to Victor, 7-5, in the state Class A championship boys lacrosse game played on a steamy Saturday afternoon at Middletown High School.“We didn’t play a perfect game, but I’m proud of how we dug in.”
The Patriots (18-4) were on the defensive for most of the game because of the faceoff wizardry of Victor’s T.D. Ierlan, who won 13 of 16 draws to give the Blue Devils (22-0) a huge advantage in time of possession. Victor, which won the state Class B championship last year over Manhasset, had no trouble stepping up in class and now is riding a 44-game winning streak.
“No. 6 won the game for them,” Ward Melville coach Jay Negus said of Ierlan, who is headed to Albany. “He’s the best faceoff guy we’ve seen.”
And Ward Melville has seen some of the best on Long Island, including Smithtown East’s Gerard Arceri, Smithtown West’s Danny Varello and Connetquot’s Dylan Finazzo.
“In Suffolk, we’re used to playing without the ball,” said Kellerman, who made six saves, including a point-blank stop in the fourth quarter with Ward Melville leading 5-4 on Eddie Munoz’s blast from the top of the slot earlier in the quarter.
But the Patriots could not get the ball back thanks to Ierlan, and Victor scored the final three goals — by Jamie Trimboli to tie it with 5:01 left, by Dan Barrow for the lead with 2:32 left and the dagger by Max Lambert with 1:48 left.
“We tried four different guys on the faceoffs and when we finally won one, we didn’t get the trip call and turned it over,” Negus said. “They ate away minutes and minutes of possession, then they’d score and get it back.”
That’s how the Blue Devils erased a 3-0 second-quarter lead. Ward Melville went 8:04 without an offensive touch during a stretch spanning the second and third quarters. Eventually, it was too much time on defense even for stalwart starters John Day, Andrew McKenna and Sean Thornton. “Those three guys are the hardest working guys I’ve ever been around. It’s an honor to play behind them,” Kellerman said.
In defeat, Ward Melville held Victor, which averaged 16 goals a game, to its lowest output of the season. “It’ll wear down any team to have to defend that long in this heat,” Negus said. “But they should be proud of what they accomplished. No one counted us in and we made it to the hardest game in New York State.”
The Patriots have won that game eight times before but entered this year’s county playoffs as a No. 4 seed.
“This was a great run,” Kellerman said. “We swept through Suffolk; we swept through Long Island; we swept through downstate. But that team is 22-0 for a reason.”