Jun 06, 2013 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
This is exactly where the West Genesee boys lacrosse team expects to be, heading toward a decisive Saturday in June and closing in on a state championship.
Having gone to the top 15 times before in head coach Mike Messere’s tenure, the Wildcats have a shot at no. 16 after Wednesday night’s 11-6 victory over Section V champion Penfield in the state Class A semifinals at St. John Fisher College, near Rochester.
Between Ryan St. Croix’s six goals and a defense that, anchored by goalie Matt Koziol, proved tough when necessary down the stretch, WG displayed most of the qualities that have marked its championship teams of the past, even though it’s the Wildcats’ first state finals appearance since 2008.
“I’ve never had this feeling before,” said St. Croix. “I’m excited, both for the team and for the alumni.”
“It (2008) seems like a million years ago,” said senior midfielder Ted Glesener. “We weren’t supposed to be here, but look at us now.”
So much had changed since WG beat Penfield 5-3 in the March 30 season opener in Camillus, but what they both shared was unlikely, dramatic runs to the state semifinals.
The Wildcats had won three straight post-season games by a single goal, while the Patriots had made a stirring late-fourth quarter comeback to beat Orchard Park 12-11 in its regional final.
But WG trumped Penfield from a historical standpoint, aiming to make it to a 22nd state championship game, a plateau the Patriots had never reached before – and would not do so on this night, either.
Just as in its other playoff games, WG struck first, Glesener feeding Dan Ginestro for a goal 1:32 into the first quarter. And it controlled the ball through the early stages, taking multiple shots until Tom Pritchard made it 2-0 four minutes later.
Penfield did everything it could to keep the Wildcats from pulling away, as Brian Wall’s goal put the Patriots on the board at the 8:01 mark. But St. Croix answered two minutes later, and tacked on a second goal in the final minute of the period, pushing WG to a 4-1 advantage and forcing Penfield into chase mode.
St. Croix said his role in this game was to give the Wildcats a spark any time it was needed, and that late flurry foretold more important plays head.
The Patriots’ chase got tougher after Glesener scored off Henry Burns’ feed 1:22 into the second quarter, and he scored again late in the period on a one-handed shot, answering Andrew Schoeneck’s goal, to create a 6-2 margin.
As that was going on, Garrett Waldron, Nick Mellen, Jimmy Cunningham and the rest of WG’s back line locked up Penfield’s attack, with Koziol continuing to make strong point-blank stops when needed.
A key moment came in the last minute of the half. Penfield got a goal by Anthony Mitchell to cut it to 6-3 and had the ball with a chance to inch closer, but a turnover led to Ginestro’s second goal, fed by St. Croix, just six seconds before the break, and instead of a tight battle, WG had a 7-3 advantage, and all the momentum it needed.
St. Croix took over in the third quarter. He charged in for a goal 59 seconds into the third quarter, and minutes later provided a personal highlight when he charged, full speed, through Penfield’s back line and ripped a shot past goalie Liam Guiton for his fourth goal of the night.
As if that wasn’t enough, St. Croix added a fifth goal to make it 10-3, which was a cushion against a Patriots charge that cut the gap to 10-6 early in the fourth quarter, and had all kinds of chances to inch closer, but could not do so, Koziol making several point-blank stops before St. Croix iced it with his sixth goal with 1:44 left.
So WG is again in the state finals, ready to get the traditional Mohawk haircuts before returning to St. John Fisher for a state title game Saturday at 4 p.m. full of history and meaning.
The Wildcats, with its 15 state titles, is facing Ward Melville, who owns seven state championships, but none since 2000. Ward Melville beat Shenendehowa 13-6 in the other state final and is the nation’s top-ranked team.
“We’ll have to play a perfect game,” said St. Croix. “But we can definitely do it.”
Glesener said that, to prevail, the Wildcats “will need to have the mentality of a fighter”, the same thing that brought them back from uncharacteristic early struggles to get a shot at a very characteristic ending.