All-LI Pannell leads Smithtown West in '12
The last shot. James Pannell wants it. James Pannell takes it. Usually, James Pannell makes it. But in last season's Suffolk Class A title game against perennial champion West Islip, James Pannell missed it. Oh, what the gifted Smithtown West senior attack wouldn't give for one more shot.
"If I get another chance, I'll hit it," said Pannell, a returning Newsday All-Long Island selection.
Pannell hopes that chance again comes in the county championship game. He doesn't care who the opponent is, though he is well aware that West Islip has won the last eight Suffolk titles and that he was inches away from ending that reign last June 2 at Stony Brook's LaValle Stadium.
With the score tied at 11 in overtime, Pannell took a backdoor pass from Kyle Keenan and was one-on-one with West Islip goalie Kyle Turri at the left crease. Pannell faked high and shot low, but Turri snatched it out of the air.
"It wasn't a difficult shot. Ninety-nine out of 100 times, I make it," Pannell said. "It was a good save, but when I saw the pass coming at me, I honestly thought, 'Game over. I'm going to hit this shot.'
"I was shocked when I missed it. Even when we went into the huddle, I didn't think I missed the shot. I was in shock."
Pannell said his father left a copy of Newsday on the kitchen counter the next morning, with the newspaper opened to the article about the game. Pannell said he cut out the photo of Turri making the save and pasted it in his room, where it remains.
"I've put it behind me, but it does drive me," Pannell said. "What got me mad was that I love being in that situation. I'm the guy with the ball to decide the game right now -- to score the game-winning goal. And I just missed it."
He doesn't miss often, scoring 75 points (50 goals) as a junior and 76 points (41 goals) as a sophomore, which is one of the reasons he will play for defending national champion Virginia next year.
"He can make special plays for you,'' said Smithtown West coach Bob Moltisanti, the Connetquot coach for the past three years and an assistant at Smithtown West when Pannell was an eighth-grader on the varsity.
"He sees the field well. His ability to get his shot off accurately from any place makes him the elite player that he is. It's kind of a unique situation to come full circle. He won our playoff game against Smithtown East with a goal in overtime as an eighth-grader, so you saw then he was going to be special."
Dom Starsia and the Virginia coaching staff thought so, too, as the Cavaliers beat out Cornell in the recruiting battle for Pannell's talents.
"Just to have the chance to play for coach Starsia, one of the great lacrosse coaches in the game, is going to be unbelievable," Pannell said.
He said his parents would have tried to steer him toward Cornell, where his brother Rob is a senior star, if their college careers had overlapped. "That would have been awesome,'' he said. "I've never played with Rob. But I needed to go a different way."
He would like to follow a different path in his senior year. The Bulls are seeded third in Suffolk Class A, behind West Islip and Ward Melville.
"We know those are the teams we have to beat and we are very strongly motivated after coming so close last year," Pannell said.
"In my time here, we've never gotten a win against West Islip or Ward Melville in the regular season. If we can do that, it would give us a lot of confidence going into the playoffs. It wouldn't be like: 'Oh, West Islip in the playoffs; they're unbeatable.' That's the kind of attitude we've had in previous years.
"West Islip lost a lot of seniors, but you can never take them for granted. I think our younger kids realize this might be their best year to win it all."
After all, it's Pannell's last shot.