When Kelsey Catalano scored to give Ward Melville a three-goal lead midway through the second half, it felt a little more like scoring the go-ahead tally in the final few minutes of a game.
Turned out, that feeling was dead on.
Catalano, who took a pass from Alex Vignona, cut left from behind the cage, deked a defender and scored what proved to be the deciding goal as No. 3 Ward Melville held off a surging seventh-seeded Northport, 15-14, in a Class A girls lacrosse semifinal on Wednesday. The Patriots advance to the county final, 7:30 p.m. on May 30 at Dowling.
"The excitement was crazy,'' Catalano said. " they were down a couple goals and they would come back . . . Every goal mattered.''
Forget every goal -- every draw control, ground ball and penalty was crucial in a game that had more dramatic turns than a midday soap opera. Back-to-back goals by Allie Pavinelli -- the last coming on a pass from a goalie-save rebound -- drew the Tigers (13-7) to within one with two minutes to go. Northport's Gabi Labuskes' ensuing draw control nearly turned the tide, as she fed a fast-breaking Dorrien Van Dyke.
The potential tying shot hit the pipe, though, and a penalty gave the Patriots possession and the game. Ward Melville (14-4) held the ball until a turnover behind the Northport cage with nine seconds left.
"We were really focused on maintaining possession, not getting too frantic, and controlling the ball,'' said Emily Rogers-Healion, who finished with a game-high five goals. "We knew what we could do.''
What Ward Melville "could do'' was more or less contain All-American Cortney Fortunato, who spent the better portion of the game being face-guarded by Deryn Blaney. That and heavy pressure on Van Dyke (four goals, one assist), mostly by Maddy Wolmuth, frustrated a Northport) offense that drew to within one three times in the second half, but never tied.
"It's very hard,'' Blaney said of guarding Fortunato, one of the top scorers in Suffolk. "She's very fast on her feet and has a very nice shot, but I was just focused on watching her body more than her stick, so I wouldn't get fooled."
Blaney's efforts held Fortunato to three goals, but even the thrill of that success was tempered.
"There's that excitement because we're winning, but also a lot of focus,'' she said. "We needed to make sure to maintain that win and hold them out.''
That sentiment held to the last moments, when, with nine seconds left and a whole field in front of her, Fortunato flung a high prayer to her waiting teammates. The horn sounded about 12 meters from goal, and a late shot bounced harmlessly at Emma Jehle's feet.
Then they finally could celebrate.