Many times in years past, the Central regional final at the start of the state tournament cycle was a small speed bump in the West Genesee boys lacrosse team's championship quest.
But that wasn't the case Tuesday afternoon, when the Wildcats got every bit of a scare from host Vestal before Ryan Barber and his teammates took over down the stretch with a timely 5-0 run to beat the Section IV champion Golden Bears 13-9.
Through most of the Section III playoffs, WG maintained full control against the opposition, outscoring Liverpool, Fayetteville-Manlius and Auburn by a combined margin of 39-11.
And against Vestal, the Wildcats had enjoyed complete success through the years, winning all of its previous 18 meetings with the Golden Bears. That domination of the series would come under fire on a hot, steamy afternoon at Vestal's new home field.
WG took an early 2-1 lead, but could not do much at even strength against Vestal's defense. Confident after it had weathered the early Wildcat storm, the Golden Bears made a big move, putting up four unanswered goals (from four different players) to seize a 5-2 advantage late the second quarter.
Now alert to the danger, WG made its own 4-0 run in the last 2:23 of the half. Mike Fetterly's goals started the push, and Barber ended it with his goal 25.3 seconds before the break as WG seized a 6-5 lead.
That wouldn't last long, either. Vestal, getting a big performance from goalie Chris Ilse (18 saves), remained close at hand in the third quarter, trading goals and going back in front, 8-7, at the 6:31 mark when Taylor Mansfield scored his third goal of the game, fed by Travis Harrington.
Now, having allowed as many goals as it has all spring, the Wildcats' defense bore down as Ben Waldron, Joe Fazio and Jack Conboy forced bad shots and turnovers, and goalie Steve Mahle built his save total to 12.