There is a bit of irony in the fact that these Bulls dance with danger so readily and regularly – like matadors.
Rarely is it graceful and seldom is Smithtown East allowed a sigh of relief until the final whistle. "I'd love for us to score three or four [goals] more often and make it easier," coach Ann Naughton said. "But that's our style. We get down and dirty and just finish it off at the end."
That's been a theme for this field hockey team, and it continued Monday.
Madison Annitto slipped through a crowd in front of the cage, fought for position and possession, then scooped the ball over a prone goalie for the winner with 1:50 remaining.
"It's not always pretty, but we hang in there and get it done," Annitto, a defender, said. "We're fighters."
Upstart Commack certainly fought back. Smithtown East (8-2) struggled at times but took control after intermission. The Bulls drew 14 penalty corners in the second half, though it didn't result in anything tangible until the last attempt.
Annitto, filling in for injured Kristina Freshour on the corner insert, sent a diagonal pass to her left with just over two minutes left. What followed was a series of wild shots, defensive saves, deflections and, eventually, Cougars goalie Angie Duque making a diving stop. With the goalie down, Annitto deftly lifted a shot into the left corner.
Duque made 12 saves for Commack (5-5).
Before Annitto delivered on offense, she and the Bulls defense were in lockdown mode. "There's pressure playing in these close games, but I have confidence knowing this defense has my back," said Ericka Parks, who had three saves in her eighth shutout.
The teams played evenly early on, but Commack had only two scoring opportunities in the second half, one of which was on a penalty corner in the final seconds.
"Our forwards are up, so on defense, we always want to get the ball back up to them as quickly as possible," defender Jessica Giordano said. "Our job is to always be strong and alert."
You won't find any Bulls dozing. Giordano, along with Annitto and Andie Turner, lead a group that has allowed just 0.6 goals per game this season.
And what of a defender scoring the winning goal? "It says a lot about us defenders," Giordano said with a smile. "We don't just play defense; we can be offense-oriented, too."
So it's been for Smithtown East, which has remained an elite team for a decade: few style points accrued, just a lot of victories.
They have every reason to be bullish.