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Briarcliff Overcomes a Slow Start to Defeat the Panthers
By Andy Jacobs
After yielding a pair of goals in the first five minutes on Friday afternoon, the Briarcliff boys’ lacrosse team sure made it a lot harder for the Panthers of Pleasantville to do any more celebrating.
In fact, the Panthers went nearly 40 minutes between their second and third goals of the day, a scoring drought they couldn’t overcome, and wound up on the short end of a 6-3 decision to the archrival Bears in the annual Saw Mill Slugfest Cup. Elliot Jones and Jack Ricciardi both finished with two goals and an assist as Briarcliff maintained its perfect record against Section One foes and dealt the Panthers their fourth straight defeat.
“I think we’re just slumping a little bit right now,” said Panthers head coach Chris Kear, whose team had cruised to six successive wins to start the season. “You know how it is with offensive players. If you start missing a few shots and the goalie’s making a few saves, it starts to get in your head a little bit. I think we just need a game where we break out of that slump and we’ll be fine.”
Despite just one victory over the previous two and a half weeks, the host Panthers were fired up as they huddled together one final time just before stepping on the field to challenge the mighty Bears. The game was nearly three minutes old when Ryan Challice moved around the back of the cage and got to the right side of the crease to send a shot past the Bears’ Evan Van Camp, putting the Panthers in front 1-0.
The Bears never even touched the ball over the game’s first three minutes and 45 seconds. When they finally did, their initial possession of the sunny, breezy afternoon ended with quite a surprise — Brandon Rispoli’s blistering shot from straightaway that seemingly tied the score with 7:17 to go in the opening quarter was disallowed by the officials because the head came flying off his stick.
“I’ve never seen that where the goal’s already done and we’re ready to take a face-off and they disallow it,” said Bears coach Al Meola. “That was bizarre. The stick broke, what are you supposed to do?”
Adding to the Bears’ frustration, just 20 seconds later Nick Reich converted off an unsettled situation at midfield to increase Pleasantville’s lead to 2-0. But Briarcliff’s sagging fortunes didn’t last long. A Panther turnover paved the way for Rispoli to find the back of the net, for keeps this time, cutting the Bears’ deficit to 2-1 with 5:43 remaining in the first period.
With just under two minutes left, Ricciardi, from just left of the crease, got a pass from Lucas Proctor and sent the ball past goalie Ryan Raefski, tying the score. The contest remained even until Proctor put the Bears in front to stay, assisted by Ricciardi, with just 3:53 left on the scoreboard in the first half.
Raefski made a big save on a shot by Nico Santucci with two and a half minutes left in the half, and then just seconds before the buzzer it was Van Camp’s turn to come up big, somehow deflecting a potential game-tying shot by the Panthers’ Daniel Picart from the left doorstep that sent the teams off the field at halftime with Briarcliff ahead 3-2.
“We’re always talking about those momentum goals,” said the Panthers’ Kear. “If we get a goal right before the half, that’s a huge momentum goal. The goalie made a great save. Both goalies played tremendous today. So it was just one of those hard-fought defensive battles, and they just hit a few more shots than us.”
An impressive save by Van Camp just over three minutes into the second half on a point-blank shot from Reich preserved the Bears’ slim lead. Then with 5:38 remaining in the third quarter, Jones scored the first of his two goals, this one from right of the crease that the Panthers vehemently argued should have been waved off.
Another big save by Van Camp with three minutes to go in the third quarter enabled Briarcliff to start the fourth with a two-goal advantage. Ricciardi’s second goal of the afternoon, a lefty sidewinder from left of the cage with 7:14 on the clock extended the Bears’ lead to 5-2. Just over a minute later, a Santucci goal was waved off by the refs after he had spun his way to the right side of the cage and deposited the ball in the net while tumbling to the turf.
“We had three disallowed goals, a couple of really nice plays,” said Meola. “I’m gonna look at the tape and see if we were really in the crease. But I don’t think we were. Whatever. I’m not gonna question the refs.”
The Panthers’ Challice, while falling to the ground from a wide angle right of the cage, sent a shot past Van Camp with 3:43 remaining in the game, trimming the Bears’ lead to 5-3. But just over a minute later, Briarcliff ended any doubt about the outcome when Van Camp sent a clearing pass halfway down the field and Jones finished the lightning-quick break by easily scoring in front, first faking a shot high, then playfully sending it low past Raefski.
“We don’t really like to say that we get moral victories here,” said Kear, “but for a young team like we have, a couple of ninth-graders, a lot of sophomores, it is almost a moral victory to play a tight game like that with a really, really good team like Briarcliff. I think that will give us some confidence. Now they know they can do it. They saw today, if they execute the game plan and they run their sets and they run their defensive matchups the right way, they can win big games.”
Meanwhile, Briarcliff’s Meola, whose team is now 9-2 this season after defeating Keio 13-0 a day later, is just glad the April portion of the Bears’ schedule is finally behind them, with a bragging-rights victory over their crosstown rival helping usher in the month of May.
“Honestly, they outcompeted us,” he said of the Panthers. “We found a way to win, but it wasn’t pretty on our part. Hats off to them, they played great. A frustrating game for us. We’ve got to get better. A lot of guys have been banged up and sick. We need to get past this month and get healthy. Right now, we have a little bit of a break coming up and we need it badly. It couldn’t come at a better time.”
The Bears’ regular season ends with a daunting lineup of rivals — Yorktown, Ridgefield, Stepinac and Bronxville — and having to adjust after losing star midfielder Matt Waterhouse to a season-ending injury early in the year just adds to the challenge.
“The last four games are gonna be tough,” said Meola. “Let’s hope we’re rolling into sectionals ready to go.”
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