May 28, 2011 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
On one portion of the turf at Cicero-North Syracuse’s Bragman Stadium late on a memorable Saturday night, the Liverpool boys lacrosse team commiserated around sophomore goalie Dominick Madonna.
Not far away from them, the West Genesee Wildcats were celebrating its 10th consecutive Section III Class A title, attained by outlasting the Warriors 7-6 in a triple-overtime classic that left everyone, from the players to the coaches to the massive crowd cheering for both sides, drained.
Liverpool got to the brink of ending a 22-year sectional championship drought, only to see it snatched away when, 1:02 into the third OT session, Connor Khammar fired a shot from the point that eluded Madonna and found the net.
“We put a lot of hard work, dedication and time into this effort,” said head coach Mike Felice. “When you get that close (to winning it), it hurts that much more.”
A good portion of the hurt stems from the fact that Liverpool, from the time it lost 17-6 to West Genesee back on April 8 in Camillus, had improved so much, rising to no. 10 in the state Class A rankings and crushing Fayetteville-Manlius 14-5 in the sectional semifinals to reach its first title game in a decade.
Just as in the first meeting, Felice and the Warriors sprung a zone defense on the Wildcats – two rows, three players across, in front of Madonna. It forced WG to pass the ball around the perimeter for long periods of time and take low-percentage shots that often misfired.
Though sporadic, Liverpool’s attack hit twice in the last minute of the first quarter, Austin Hope tying the game 1-1 and Joe Corapi, just before the horn, beating Tim Birchler to push the Warriors ahead 2-1.
Now with some momentum, Liverpool expanded the margin to 4-1 early in the second quarter on Chris Spencer’s back-to-back goals. Not surprisingly, the Wildcats rallied and tied it, 4-4, but the Warriors saw Spencer strike again just 2.8 seconds before halftime to give his side a 5-4 lead at the break.
Mostly, the second half belonged to the defenses. On one end, Liverpool’s zone continued to force the Wildcats outside. On the other end, the Warriors ran into tougher resistance as WG’s top back-line player, Pat Brown, held Matt Savlor (who had 10 goals in the two previous playoff games) without a goal on this night.
WG’s lone goal of the third period came from a bit of trickery, Ted Glesener faking a pass to the point before beating Madonna himself. And that 5-5 tie held deep into the fourth quarter, the Wildcats using long possessions to ice the ball before Dylan Donahue flashed open and scored with 3:57 left in regulation.
Trailing for the first time since the first quarter, Liverpool would not give up. Corapi won the ensuing face-off, and Liverpool worked the ball around until Corapi, regaining possession, charged in and beat Birchler up close, tying it again at 6-6.
What ultimately hurt the Warriors, though, was small mistakes. It turned the ball over five times in the fourth quarter, including one in the final minute as it tried to get the winning goal. Instead, it gasped as the Wildcats nearly put in the game-winner – but the shot went into the net after time ran out.
“You can’t give a great team as many chances as they (West Genesee) got,” said Felice.
So it went to a four-minute overtime period, and when that didn’t settle things, a second OT was needed, which didn’t settle it, either. In both the second and third extra periods, the Warriors lost the face-off, giving WG more chances to work against a bone-weary Liverpool defense. And that led to Khammar getting a second of open space to fire his decisive shot home.
It’s hard for the Warriors to look back on its 17-2 campaign with anything other than pride. In his first year at the helm, Felice turned a solid program into a team capable of winning championships, and came as close as one could to winning the big prize without actually doing it.
Felice said that no one remembers who finishes second – but Liverpool fans will disagree after seeing the 2011 edition of the Warriors work itself to the brink of long-sought glory.