The few, the proud. And now, the victors.
Nicole Levy appropriated the Marines motto to describe East Islip girls lacrosse -- a team with only four bench players and a daunting task in 2011 state champion Northport in the Class A semifinals. But as it so happened, Monday, it was Northport's sparse numbers to help East Islip advance.
Levy, a freshman, fought off her defender in the crease and flipped to Jackie Niciforo, who scored a man-up goal with 13 seconds left as No. 5 East Islip defeated fourth-seeded Northport, 8-7. East Islip moves on to play No. 1 Ward Melville at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
"When there's a man-up, we set up around the crease," Niciforo said of the play, which began when Paige Bonomi was flagged with a yellow card near midfield with 45 seconds left.
"That's pretty much it," Levy said, offering Niciforo an enthusiastic fist bump. "Teammates. Connection."
East Islip (13-5), which had previously never led, trailed five times and endured a late-game onslaught thanks to an airtight defense and a vacuum-sealed cage, courtesy of goalie Krista Ancona.
"We lost every single defender this year except for one," Ancona said. "But we knew we had what it took this time and we knew in our hearts we were going to beat them."
"This time," because Northport (11-5) beat East Islip, 9-5, this year, and 20-2 last year. No matter, Niciforo said. "We were shooting for an upset," she said, adding that after 2011, "it was our goal to beat them."
Northport didn't make it easy, taking a 7-5 lead on Emily Columbus' one-timed flick on Bonomi's feed with 10:52 to go. That was the last goal Ancona allowed. After East Islip drew to within one on an Elizabeth Vetter goal, the Tigers won the ensuing draw control to set up a deep feed and a one-on-one with East Islip's senior goalie. Ancona made the deflection with 10:01 left, allowing East Islip to tie the game on Shannon Cummings' score with 8:57 left.
Ancona then staged a repeat performance of her previous stop on a point-blank shot with 7:10 to go. Her free-position save with 4:40 left gave her eight on the day. That, along with a tight man-to-man defense, mostly helped contain a Northport attack that featured the USC-bound Bonomi (three goals, one assist), a senior, and Notre Dame-bound Cortney Fortunato. The heavily faceguarded junior was held to two goals and one assist.
"I've been goalie since third grade," Ancona said. "I quit goalie when I was in eighth but when I saw someone play my position, I was like no. I'm going back in. I took what was rightfully mine."
Equal parts playfulness and intensity, Ancona, who made a number of free-position stops, would greet Northport's explosive offense with a clang on her cage in the universal gesture of "not in my house."
"Love taps," she said. "I love that thing. Especially the post. That's my best friend."