Jack Gillen saw the ball land in his stick and couldn’t believe his luck.
He was open.
Gillen said he didn’t think much after that, taking the shot and scoring the winning goal with 1:27 left in overtime to lift No. 2 Ward Melville to its fourth straight Suffolk A title, defeating top-seeded Smithtown West 10-9, Thursday at Sachem North High School.
“[Smithtown West] brought two guys down to the crease and I was wide open,” Gillen said. “Steven [Germain] threw me the ball and it was a blur from there. I shot as hard as I could and here we are.”
Gillen’s goal almost didn’t happen.
Ward Melville, which had a pair of chances earlier in overtime, lost control of the ball moments before and it looked like Smithtown West (16-3) was going to be able to clear. The Patriots (14-3) had different ideas, swarming the Bulls along the sideline as they tried to capture the ground ball, and eventually, forcing a Smithtown West turnover.
“It was like, OK, this is meant to be,” Gillen said. “We turned the ball over, but then we had another chance and we had to make it count.”
Ward Melville’s defense proved to be the difference-maker down the stretch.
Facing a three-goal deficit with 5:29 left in regulation, the Patriots rallied, forcing turnovers and grabbing key ground balls to mount the comeback. Goalie Collin Krieg stood tall in net, including a big-time save on Smithtown West’s opening possession of OT.
“They made some unbelievable plays,” Ward Melville coach Jay Negus said. “And Collin is the best goalie, in my opinion, in Suffolk county, maybe on the Island.”
Rocco Barbero and Patrick O’Neil both notched goals during Ward Melville’s fourth-quarter comeback, while Germain, who was a force on both sides of the field, sent the game to OT with 23.2 seconds left. The junior midfielder scooped up a ground ball directly in front of the net, spinning on the spot and firing toward the goal.
“When I saw the ball, I went all out for it, trying to make a play,” said Germain, who finished with three goals and one assist. “I turned and I had an empty net, so I had to bury it.”
Ward Melville advances to Saturday’s Long Island championship, taking on Massapequa at 10 am at Hofstra. It’s a spot the Patriots are used to, but the squad doesn’t want to take anything for granted. They’ve got their sights set on another state title and this, simply, is the next step.
“We know that if you work hard, you can’t lose,” Germain said. “We’ve got to prepare and we’re going to win.”