BEDFORD, N.Y. - Stacey Wierl knew that Rye coach Dennis Hurley would come in with a top-notch game plan and that a 12-goal win over the Garnets back in April didn’t have much bearing on the finals rematch.
Her forecast was correct. Top-seeded John Jay and second-seeded Rye battled until the final buzzer, but it was the Indians who came out on top, 8-7, to claim the Section 1 Class C girls lacrosse title on May 23 at Fox Lane High School.
“I knew that Dennis had prepared them well and we were going to see things tonight that we hadn’t seen before,” said Wierl, who is in her second season as the team’s head coach. “We were prepared to make adjustments and I think they did a great job.”
John Jay won its second section title in a row after claiming the Class B crown last year.
“Last year we were the underdogs and there was a lot less pressure,” senior Cara O’Reilly said. “Being on top is really hard to keep and that’s what we were struggling to keep it the entire game and the entire season, honestly. All of the teams wanted to get us. But this was our goal the entire season.”
It was Mia DiChiara’s low bouncer on a feed from O’Reilly that proved to be the difference with 39 seconds on the clock.
“I just saw the opportunity and I saw Cara drive,” DiChiara said of the game winner. “I moved, she hit me and I just tried my best to get it in. I was struggling earlier trying to get my shots off. I was going high and the goalie was really strong high. All I was thinking in my head was, ‘Go low, go low.’ So I got the ball and I shot low and it went in. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Charlotte Wilmoth grabbed the draw control to help set up the goal. She also secured the draw following the decisive goal and the Indians were able to run the clock out.
It was John Jay’s second one-goal win in a row. The Indians rallied to defeat Hendrick Hudson 10-9 in the semifinals.
“We’ve always liked an intense game,” O’Reilly said. “A lot of games that we have, they’ll either go to overtime or we’ll only win by one goal. It’s just how we play; we’re a comeback kind of team. We just kept the intensity high and never gave up.”
When the final buzzer went off, the team made a bee-line for senior goalie Brianna Garofolo, who made some huge saves to keep John Jay in the game, especially during a slow first half.
“I think that’s the best game she’s ever played,” the Colgate-bound O’Reilly said of Garofolo. “She got a lot of great, low saves, and she even came up big on some high saves. [Rye] has some great drivers and great shooters. They did a lot of faking and they had open players in the middle and Bri came up big. When she makes big saves like that, it just gets us really hyped to go down and score.”
Turnovers plagued the Indians in the early going and they trailed 3-1 in the first half. Wilmoth shoveled in a goal on a feed from Cameron Crawford with 10:08 left in the first half to cut the deficit to 3-2.
Garofolo, who split time with Taylor Rice last season, then made a flurry of saves to keep it a one-goal game. She finished with eight saves.
“From 8-meters to great clears, she was just the full package today,” said Wierl, whose assistant coach is Claire Yergeau. “She’s got a special relationship with her teammates. They take care of her and have a great appreciation for how hard she works. She’s a special kid. We all know that it comes down to goaltending and defense going into championships. They showed that today.”
Sydney Phillips was set up by O’Reilly with 39 seconds left in the first half to send the game into halftime tied at 3-3. O’Reilly had five assists in the game.
“In the beginning when we were down, we were just like, ‘All right, we’ve got this. Just stay focused,’” DiChiara said. “We were just trying to keep a level head the entire time, stay composed and focus on not making the mistakes we were making. When each goal would happen, we would just go after the next play. It kept working and we just kept going at it. That’s what I think kept us in the game: our mentality, our will and our love for each other.”
John Jay took the 4-3 lead on Wilmoth’s low shot with 18:36 to play. The Garnets answered with a goal but O’Reilly went right down the heart of the Rye defense for two consecutive goals in just over a minute. Her second score gave the Indians a 6-4 lead with 12:41 remaining.
“Coming off the first game we played against them, we knew we couldn’t let it get to our heads,” O’Reilly said of the 17-5 win over Rye on April 23. “On attack, at first, I think we made some good cuts but their goalie made some big saves. And I think that in the second half we were much more patient with the ball. We found those cuts in the middle and we took great drives from the top.”
O’Reilly then set up Jenna Giardina to give the Indians a three-goal cushion with 11:49 left.
But Rye wasn’t going down easy. The Garnets scored three straight, tying the game up at 7-7 on an 8-meter shot with 2:28 to go.
John Jay (15-4) was scheduled to face the Section 9 champion in the Class C regional semifinals on May 29 at 6 p. m. at Newburgh Free Academy.
“It’s a lot tougher to defend,” Wierl said of winning a second section title. “We’ve been talking about how we manage pressure throughout the season and this is special because now these kids are seniors. We have such an incredibly special group of seniors and these girls are really playing for them.”
John Jay 10, Hen Hud 9
Trailing Hendrick Hudson with 15 minutes remaining in the semifinals, DiChiara and the Indians knew they needed to make something happen.
DiChiara, a sophomore, rattled off four straight goals to tie the game and Crawford netted the game winner, to send Jay to the finals with a 10-9 come-from-behind win over fourth-seeded Hen Hud on May 20.
Crawford wrapped around the net and scored the winning goal with 2:21 to play. Host John Jay was then able to gain possession and run out the clock.
“It’s somewhat of a blur because the game was so fast paced, but it started when we called a play,” Crawford said. “Lily (Preis) passed the ball to me while I was behind the cage. The play has us bring the ball righty around the crease, so that’s what I did. I started to drive and then continued to move across the crease trying to create a better shooting angle. I gapped my defender slightly and realized I had an opportunity so I shot it high on her offside.”
DiChiara started the rally when she scored with 14:33 left to cut the deficit to 8-6. She rolled and scored again 47 seconds later. And just 23 seconds after that, DiChiara netted her third goal in just 1:10 to tie the game at 8-8.
“She’s had the hot hand the past two weeks,” Wierl said. “That kind of composure from a sophomore is really special.”
The sophomore said that winning for the seniors was a thought that kept running through her head in the second half.
“Yesterday, not only was their last time playing on our home turf, but could have been their last time playing high school lacrosse ever,” DiChiara said. “I have never seen a group of people that I have looked up to more, and most importantly, worked as hard as they do. I owed it to them. I was running on pure adrenaline and I just took every opportunity I was given to make something happen. A switch needed to flip, and I tried my hardest to contribute to flipping it. I would not have been able to do any of it without the positive reinforcement of my teammates. Our sideline is the biggest support system, and hearing them throughout the entire game keeps the players on field confident and in a strong headspace, and yesterday they were there for us like I’ve never seen before. Also, there were parents, youth players and friends filling the stands. Everybody grew ecstatic when we began to gain momentum. All of these factors contributed to what allowed me to have the poise and focus to go to goal and make smart decisions. My coach says it best: ‘One team, one family.’”
The Sailors regained the lead with 10:23 to play. After a long Hen Hud possession, Garofolo came through with a save to keep the deficit at one goal.
DiChiara, who also had an assist and picked up three ground balls on top of her four goals, tied the game up at 9-9 on an 8-meter with 3:39 to play.
John Jay switched in DiChiara on the draw circle after struggling to win the draws throughout the first half. The move worked as the Indians won the draws down the stretch to help them get back in the game.
“Depending on the opponent and the case that the ball goes straight up, I try to use my height to my advantage to reach up and grab it,” DiChiara said. “I would say my key to success was staying composed and focusing on placing the ball where it needed to go. I did my best to not let the pressure get to my head, and remain calm and get the job done.”
Giardina netted three goals for Jay. Wilmoth (1G), O’Reilly (1G, 1A) and Kelly Nolan (1A) also contributed. Garofolo made five saves for an Indian defense that held Hen Hud to just two goals in the second half.