By Michael J. Lewis
“Champions do what others won’t” is one of those sports slogans that gets slapped on posters and hung up all over locker rooms across America.
It’s a cliché, yes, but inside of it is a kernel of truth: The hardest-working teams that spend months of the offseason running and getting in better shape will be the ones standing at the end.
In the fourth quarter, when games are decided, it’s the squads that were bent over, gasping and heaving after hundreds of practices, that will be left standing tall.
The Manhasset boys lacrosse team is filled with champions; last season they returned to their normal perch as kings of New York state, winning the Nassau County, Long Island and state championship (the last one being their first title since 2010).
This season the Indians have cruised through their season, dropping only one game, but in two huge wins this past week, they showed they’re tougher than anyone around.
Twice, in the Nassau championship on May 31 and the Long Island championship on June 3, Manhasset was on the ropes. Things weren’t clicking on offense, hungry opponents (Wantagh and Shoreham-Wading River) saw the king teetering on the throne and looked ready to pounce.
In both games, Manhasset was either tied or trailing in the fourth quarter. And in both games, the Indians simply went up another level at crunch time.
Against Wantagh, Manhasset couldn’t pull away for much of the contest at Hofstra, and with one quarter left it led by just 8-7. The Indians then blew Wantagh’s doors off in the fourth period, running away to a 15-9 win.
Saturday, against an even tougher foe in S-WR at Stony Brook University, Manhasset again struggled to get the offense going and saw its underdog foe carry much of the play.
But with the score tied at 5 to start the final period, the Indians again played like champions, outscoring the Wildcats 6-1 in the final frame to secure an 11-6 win.
It may not have always been Picasso-like beauty, but as usual, Manhasset simply found a way.
“Nobody on Long Island, or maybe the country, works harder than us to get ready for these kinds of games,” said senior defender James Lapina,
Lapina, who proudly wears No. 44 to honor former Manhasset player Ryan Kreiss, one of three (along with James and Michael Farrell) ex-Indians who was killed in a car accident in 2021, was on his horse all game, chasing the speedy S-WR attack.
Lapina and fellow defender Jack Lamarca watched Wildcats star Liam Gregorek score three quick goals in the first quarter off of transition, as S-WR took a 3-1 lead early.
“We knew he’d get some in transition, and in the beginning of the game they were going really fast once they got a stop or turnover on the other end,” said Manhasset junior goalie Matt Im, who shined in both wins this week, with 12 total saves. “But once we settled down we started slowing their transition and our defense played amazing.”
Indeed, the defense of the Indians held S-WR to only two second-half goals, a remarkable feat considering how strong the Wildcats’ offense is.
Meanwhile, in both games, it took the Manhasset offense a bit to get going.
Against Wantagh in the county final it took until the fourth quarter for star attacks Liam Connor and Jack Peterson to really get rolling; Peterson finished with a season-high five goals, four in the second half, while Connor added four scores and Matt Cargiulo had a goal and four assists.
That allowed Manhasset plenty of breathing room once the fourth quarter wound down, as the Indians outscored Wantagh 7-2 in the final period.
“It’s funny, I always know a run is coming (from our offense) but I never know when it’s going to happen,” said Manhasset coach Keith Cromwell. “Our guys are resilient, tough as nails, and I just wish the run would come sooner but I’ll take it.”
Against Shoreham-Wading River the offense was even tougher to come by. Manhasset’s offense was mostly kept in check thanks to switching man and zone defenses by the Wildcats, and with the score 5-3 midway through the third, things were looking bleak.
But two plays that happened within a minute sparked Manhasset. First Cargiulo, headed to Boston University in the fall, pumped in a goal from right in front of S-WR goalie Jaden Galfano (14 saves) to cut the deficit to 5-4.
Then, after yet another Cal Girard (headed to Duke) faceoff win, Girard charged toward the cage and was elbowed in the head by S-WR’s Liam Taylor, drawing a two-minute penalty.
“Yeah that got us fired up a little bit, seeing Cal knocked like that because he’s such a special player,” Lapina said.
On the man-up situation, Patrick Arnold fired a high shot past Galfano to tie the game, and the energy palpably shifted to Manhasset.
In the fourth quarter, Aiden Haggerty re-tied the game at 6, another two-goal game for a senior who missed the entire 2022 season with an ACL tear, and then Petersen (headed to Harvard) gave Manhasset its first lead of the game with a low blast with 9:16 left on the clock.
From there Manhasset’s offense, led by Girard’s faceoff prowess, ran away with it as the Wildcats defenders grew tired of chasing.
“They were really physical and our defense keeping us in the game today was the difference; they were phenomenal back there,” Cromwell said. “Our coaches condition these kids for these kinds of games, so much credit goes to the coaching staff.”
Manhasset(19-1) now needs two more wins to repeat as state champs: It plays Rye High School Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at University at Albany in the state semis; if Manhasset can win that, it gets to come home to Hofstra for a Saturday 3 p.m. championship game.