PANTHERS 14, TUCKERS 1
The Mattituck/Greenport/Southold boys lacrosse team is experiencing growing pains, and Keith Lizzi can empathize. For good reason, too. The Miller Place team that Lizzi coaches is only in its third varsity season.
This is the second varsity season for Mattituck/Greenport/Southold, which fielded only a junior varsity team last year following the Tuckers’ inaugural varsity season in 2010. As one might expect, the going has been tough for the Tuckers. They have managed a meager 11 goals in their first four games, all losses. At the other end of the field, they have conceded 52 goals.
“It’s been humbling,” said coach Tim Corcoran.
Given that Miller Place has only one year on the Tuckers in terms of varsity growth, it’s impressive to see how far the Panthers have come. Miller Place went 7-8 in its first varsity season and lost to Comsewogue in the first round of the playoffs last year. This year Miller Place was ranked seventh in Suffolk County Division II in a preseason coaches poll. The Panthers recorded their third straight win with their 14-1 romp over the Tuckers on Tuesday at Miller Place High School.
But Miller Place (3-3 overall and in Division II) had something Mattituck/Greenport/Southold didn’t have: a lacrosse culture. Even before it fielded a varsity team, Miller Place benefitted from a strong youth lacrosse program that prepared players for higher levels. Furthermore, four of Miller Place’s neighboring schools — Shoreham-Wading River, Rocky Point, Mount Sinai and Comsewogue — have all won state championships.
“Lacrosse is really big around here,” Lizzi said. “Youth lacrosse is huge here in Miller Place, and we’re surrounded by it. I wasn’t starting from scratch. I had some boys that could play.”
They just needed some fine-tuning, perhaps. The Tuckers need a good deal more than that, as evidenced by Tuesday’s result, which could have been even less flattering had Miller Place, in a sportsmanlike gesture, not eased up in the second half.
James Nielsen, a senior attackman, scored five goals from six shots and also tallied four assists. Ryan Callahan contributed four goals and two assists for the Panthers, who held a 9-0 lead by halftime. Another Miller Place player, Paul Ceschini, scored twice. Mitch LaBianca scooped up a game-high eight ground balls.
Three Miller Place goalies — Matt Liantonio, Matt Hin and J. C. Guido — totaled only one save among them. Miller Place outshot the Tuckers, 33-10, and won the ground-ball battle, 38-17.
Miller Place dominated all facets of the game and did an excellent job of keeping the ball out of the Tuckers’ sticks. The only thing Miller Place didn’t get was a shutout. The Tuckers avoided becoming the victims of a rare shutout when Patrick Robbins scored off a pass from Jack DiGregorio in the game’s final seconds.
Speaking of the shutout bid, Nielsen said, “It would have been nice, but it’s not the end of the world.”
Miller Place did all of this without arguably its best player. Jeff Reh, a senior attackman who is headed to play for Stony Brook University, is recovering from a dislocated shoulder. The Panthers expect to have Reh, who has missed one and a half games, available for Thursday’s game against Hauppauge.
Meanwhile, the learning process continues for the Tuckers, who went 1-13 in their first varsity season.
“It’s been tough, but we’re improving a lot,” midfielder Casey Grathwohl said. “We got to piece it together.”
What do the Tuckers need most at this stage in their development?
“Dedication, [from] everybody,” Corcoran said. “You know, I have guys missing practice here and there for Spanish club or any other clubs. Lacrosse just isn’t their first choice.”
Lizzi offered some words of advice for the Tuckers.
“Patience,” he said. “You got to be patient. It’s not going to happen overnight.”