Jun 16, 2008 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
For any close follower of the West Genesee boys lacrosse team, two years without a state Class A championship is a dry spell, three years an outright drought.
Fully remembering the defeats in title games each of the past two seasons, the Wildcats made sure that did not happen again, coming from behind Saturday to beat Syosset 11-7 at Hofstra University on Long Island.
Overall, it’s WG’s 15th state championship, by far the most of any program, all of them earned under the direction of head coach Mike Messere.
And few of those championships were ever attained with a greater amount of resolve, from the team overcoming a string of early-season injuries, to the last game against Syosset, where a four-goal deficit was wiped out.
WG had all the early momentum, seizing a 2-0 lead in the first quarter behind goals from Tim Besio and Luke Cometti.
That changed, though, when Syosset won every face-off in the second quarter and reeled off five unanswered goals. During that time, WG did not take a shot for more than 10 minutes, and it went to halftime staring at a 5-2 deficit.
When the Braves scored again early in the third period to make it 6-2, dreams of a first-ever state title, done at the expense of a legendary dynasty, began to creep in for the Long Island champions.
But while Syosset imagined glory, West Genesee stayed in the moment — and soon enough, it started to take over.
Sophomore midfielder John Glesener’s pair of goals (with Ryan Barber scoring in between) ignited the rally. Then, in the final seconds of the third period, Jordan Rogers stepped in and ripped a shot past highly-touted Braves goalie Evan Cohen, tying it 6-6.
As it went to the final period, the game might have been tied — but all the momentum was on the Wildcats’ side, and would stay there.
Barber dove near the crease and threw in a spectacular goal with 10:30 left to give WG the lead. Rogers and Mike Fetterly followed with goals, but it was an unlikely offensive source that provided the clinching blow.
With four minutes left, defender Jack Kennedy grabbed possession of the ball in his own. Kennedy ran up the field, at full speed, darting past Syosset defenders and ripping a high shot that eluded Cohen and crashed into the net. Another state title had been sealed.
Kennedy had joined Ben Waldron, Jack Conboy and Joe Fazio in a defense that took the Braves out of its rhythm for much of the second half. Steve Mahle, continuing to improve in goal, finished with 14 saves as he earned the state that eluded his predecessor, John Galloway.
All this ended a memorable playoff sequence, stretched out over five days, where the Wildcats were always in danger — and always got out.
Many times in years past, the Central regional final at the start of the state tournament cycle was a small speed bump in WG’s state quest.
But that wasn’t the case last Tuesday afternoon, when the Wildcats got every bit of a scare from host Vestal before it took over down the stretch to beat the 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.
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 in the second quarter the Golden Bears made a big move, putting up four unanswered goals (from four different players) to seize a 5-2 lead.
Now alert to the danger, WG made its own 4-0 run in the last 2:23 of the half to seize a 6-5 lead. That wouldn’t last long, as Vestal 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.
Sensing the danger, Barber seized command. In a span of less than 90 seconds late in the third period, the Syracuse University-bound senior landed the tying and go-ahead goals, and suddenly WG had a 9-8 lead.
So it remained until the middle of the fourth quarter — where, in one of its patented outbursts, the Wildcats scored three times in the span of 59 seconds to put Vestal away.
Barber, naturally, struck the last of those decisive blows, his fifth goal of the game. Fetterly was the other main threat, finishing with four goals and one assist to match Barber’s point total.
Tim Besio scored twice, with Luke Cometti earning a goal and three assists and Jim Marks earning one goal and one assist. Jordan Rogers gained two assists, with single assists credited to Fazio and Conor Regin.
This led to Thursday’s state semifinal at Coyne Field against undefeated Section V champion Canandaigua, whose 23-0 mark included an 11-5 romp over Orchard Park in the western regional final.
And it proved to be even closer than Vestal — but with enough key plays and enough key stops at key moments, the Wildcats edged past the Braves 11-10.
Austin Rogers’ tally goal 27 seconds into the game gave Canandaigua a quick 1-0 lead, and it held up all the way to the second quarter, when the Wildcats began to pounce.
Glesener, Cometti and Rogers each hit on two goals to push the Wildcats into a 6-4 lead. But every time WG tried to get away, Canandaigua would answer, succeeding in one-on-one charges against the Wildcat defense.
The Braves, in fact, tied it 8-8 late in the third quarter. But in a story that would repeat itself on Long Island, WG came up with a big goal just before the period ended, Cometti feeding Fetterly up front for that tally with just 2.9 seconds showing on the clock.
Twice in the fourth quarter, the Wildcats would go up by two, thanks to goals from Marks and Fetterly. Each time, Canandaigua would pull back within one, as Tom Lacrosse and Connor Henderson converted, the latter goal coming with 3:35 to play.
Canandaigua had a handful of chances to pull even in the fourth quarter. Each time, it could not come through, either forced into a turnover by the Wildcats’ defense, and Mahle made a key stop on a low shot by Lacrosse with 1:20 to play, his 12th save of the afternoon.
Cometti, as he had done so many times early in the season, carried WG on the offensive side with four goals and one assist. Glesener, Fetterly and Rogers each scored twice as Barber gained two assists.
Hours later, the Wildcat players underwent the ritual of getting Mohawk-style haircuts for the state final. They had done the same in 2006 and ’07, only to end up disappointed. This time around, the trip to the title game was a lot more rewarding.