West Islip knew how to win it all
It was during its darkest hour that a light suddenly switched on for West Islip. That light is still glowing brightly. Turns out, it was a spotlight for another bring-down-the-house performance of Lion Kings.
On April 28, the Lions were trailing rival Ward Melville 5-1 in the third quarter, and not looking anything like a team that had won eight straight Suffolk Class A championships.
"We scored seven unanswered goals to win 8-5," recalled West Islip coach Scott Craig. "That's the day we said, 'Look out. We can play defense with anyone.' "
The dynasty continued, with a capital 'D' for defense, as West Islip replaced two-thirds of its defense plus an All-Long Island goalie to compile a 21-1 record, win its ninth straight county crown, its seventh Long Island title and, most fulfilling, its fifth state crown in the last seven years.
"It wasn't a team of great athletes," Craig said. "[Nick] Aponte is a phenomenal athlete. [Jack] Kelly in goal and [Anthony] Santo on defense are great athletes. The other guys are hard workers who learned how to win."
Aponte, a Penn State-bound junior, fought shoulder injuries all season but was at his best in the state tournament. He scored two goals with three assists in a 9-6 semifinal victory over Niskayuna and three goals with four assists in a 12-7 win over Ithaca in last Saturday's state championship game at Middletown High School. Aponte earned game MVP honors in the final.
Kelly, headed to Brown, was one of Long Island's elite goalies, a daring and accurate passer who often triggered the fast break after a save. Santo, going to Sacred Heart, was the anchor of a rebuilt defense that allowed just five goals a game in the six-game playoff run.
Offensively, West Islip was at its best when it shared the ball, as it did down the stretch. Denver-bound Tom Moore (60 goals) and Marquette-bound Brendan Smith (55) were the big guns. Moore scored five and Smith three in the state semifinal and Moore had a hat trick in the title game. "This is incredible! The best feeling in the world," Moore said.
Of his offensive philosophy, Moore said with a confident grin, "You shoot to get hot and you shoot to stay hot."
When West Islip sizzled, usually in the second half, it had a steamroller effect on its opponents. "It's a good feeling when we get rolling," Smith said.
The offense was rolling during the playoffs as Moore, Smith, Aponte, Anthony DeLuca, Jon Reese and Ryan Wieczorek all had their moments. "It's hard to stop us. We have a lot of guys who can take it to the cage," said DeLuca, who had three goals in the state semifinal.
"If it's not your turn to dodge, it's your turn to finish."
And once again, West Islip finished in a familiar spot -- on top of Suffolk, on top of Long Island, on top of New York State. As Kelly, who flourished in goal after sitting behind Kyle Turri for two seasons, said during the joyous on-the-field celebration in Middletown, "It's West Islip once again."
Put it in lights.