Sunday, May 4, 2014

Huskers Gut Out Murphy Cup

Perusing the regular season schedule prior to the 2014 campaign, Yorktown safely concluded there would be no easy outs. Not with high-stakes barometer matchups against the nation's elite, with weekend treks from Long Island to Maryland.

For New York State's top-ranked team in Class B, there were few safe bets outside of their in-Section foes.

Lakeland/Panas, however, has always held different weight. That didn't change this season, especially with ramped up expectations and the gurus projecting a knot-tight battle.

Regardless of Yorktown's power on the national scale, the Murphy Cup has the most value of any regular season game. Has since the very start.

This is tradition.

This is for the sake of yearly border town bragging rights.

The Murphy Cup embodies the true ferocity and flair and crazed fanfare of a rivalry game.

The renewed blood feud hasn't fizzled over the years.

It is as lively a sword fight as there is across the Section, against the same kids with whom Yorktown and L/P grew up playing, learning the niceties of the lacrosse, and battling on the travel team circuit. Several of Lakeland/Panas' players were once part of the Yorktown Bombers summer travel team.

High school creates a big division between them, intensifying this storied rivalry.

The competitive nature is akin to playing your little brother one-on-one. It is as intense and fierce and emotional as high school lacrosse can get, unparalleled around these parts.

 This is the "yeah, but..." game. Yeah, you can win the Section and navigate a state tournament splurge. But, if you lose the Murphy Cup, the season isn't complete.

Yorktown senior Nicky Bonitatibus was quick and deceptive. Darting, shredding, and blurring around traffic, Bonitatibus scored three goals and dealt out an assist. His high-octane play sparked the Huskers to a four-goal bulge early.

Connor Vercruysse (three goals), playing before his future coach in Rutgers' boss Brian Brecht, again morphed into a grenade launcher. Scoring in transition and pulling up on the wing, Vercruysse made the Rebels pay for giving him space to spot up and stick.

As for Lakeland/Panas?

Sure the loss is no smooth pill to digest. The silver linings, however, are noble and notable.

The Rebels' Jimmy Flaherty proved just how unsung and undervalued he is, orchestrating a spirited second half rally with counter rips.

 Brian Prunty, he of the rich Section 1 bloodline, stuck pivotal goals and hunted for his shot amid intensified coverage.

Mike Zingaro, who came up with 13 saves, dug in for ground balls and sealed the net as well as any goalie has against the Huskers this season.

Yorktown's early firing spree and power in numbers ultimately propelled them to a 12-10 win in another page of this epic clash.

The 25th Murphy Cup resulted in another Yorktown win, but it was not without its dramatics. The Rebels scored five of eight second half goals before lightning struck, halting the game for 30 minutes.

"In the locker room (during the delay) we were just telling each other we've got to stay focused," said Vercruysse. "The intensity of this game is tremendous and its great to get (The Murphy Cup) back."

The focus didn't falter during the final 6:07. The Huskers drained the clock and benefited from a pair of penalties. Though they let up a goal right before the buzzer, the damage had been done.

Senior Luke Palmadesso, who gave the Huskers an 11-7 edge when he scored from the X just seven seconds into the fourth quarter, gripped the Murphy Cup as a swarm of teammates gave chase.

"It's a cross-town rivalry. Every time we play them and going back to when your a kid, it's always a big game," said Huskers head coach and homegrown product Dave Marr.

"It's a fun rivalry. There's a lot of history. These kids, you know they really didn't know (Yorktown lacrosse founder Charlie Murphy) at all. So, we try to give them a little bit of the history and tell them how it was back in the day. We honor his memory and the kids really take to it, on both sides."

Yorktown padded its lead when Justin Cavallo fed a cutting Ryan Baker, who popped a 9-4 ball. The Rebels, buoyed by the hot hand of Flaherty (game-best four goals) and workmanlike scoring from Brian and Kevin Prunty, sliced it to 10-7 before Palmadesso surged to the cage for the four-goal cushion that kick-started the fourth.

"Early on we just made a couple of mistakes like not picking up ground balls, not clearing it, throwing the ball away and they're the type of team that's always going to capitalize on that," said Brian Prunty, a Siena-commit.

"We got down 6-2 early, it's tough to come back from that. We fought hard but (Yorktown) is the type of team that kills you if you let them."

The Rebels were lackadaisical early on, trying to fire in pinpoint passes and rocket shots without a set play.

"Coach (Jim Lindsay) was just saying, 'be patient.' You're not going to score a goal on every possession. So, every time we dodge we don't have to throw a skip pass or shoot."

Lindsay's words did not fall on deaf ears.

Vercruysse rifled in an 18-yarder that provided a 6-2 edge. Bonitatibus wrapped around the cage for his third goal and Palmadesso canned a straightaway rip that created an 8-3 bulge.

 The Rebels answered with methodical play in the half-field set. They worked the rock around, set picks, dodged, and put a freight into the Huskers, which coasted to a 14-2 drubbing in last year's game.

 Brian Prunty, Flaherty, and Andrew Sonofroniou deposited goals to shred the deficit. Kevin Prunty's unassisted goal with 32 seconds left in the third sliced it to 10-7.

"We definitely challenge ourselves throughout the season playing some tough teams," said Syracuse-bound Austin Fusco, who spearheaded the defense.

"No matter what, we always know it's going to be a great game during the Murph Cup. They were going on runs, we kind of expected it. We kind of slowed things down, controlled the game and got out of here with the Murph Cup and to bring it home where it belongs. We had a (7-4) loss against Ridgefield, but it only inspired us."

The Huskers have won 22 of the 25 Murphy Cups. The Rebels haven't won since 2010, when a Shawn Honovich, Will Fallo, Conor Prunty and Robbie Caffrey-led team reeled off a 4-0 third quarter run that sparked a monumental upset.

The Rebels have never been a team to utter the words "moral victory" or harp on wistful reminders of what could have been. Against their bitter rivals, honoring the memory of a legendary local laX pioneer, the game lived up to its lofty billing.

"We know these guys from playing summer lacrosse with them back when we were in third and fourth grade," explained Brian Prunty.

"They've always been friends of ours. We go to camps with them. It definitely makes it a little bit different to know that they're your rivals, but still be friends with them after the game."

The Huskers' only friends were wearing lime-green jerseys Saturday.

A collective thirst to win the Murphy Cup, a goal that's always etched on the chalk board before the season, resonated. Especially from the core of seniors.

"I wasn't going to let the Murph Cup leave me my senior year, absolutely not," said Fusco.

"Especially with these guys around me."

It took five minutes to understand the game hasn't lost an iota of its luster over the years. THE CROP and the rowdy Rebels fan base got after it early and often. Lakeland/Panas' crowd delivered the first dig, serenading the field with a steady chorus of "overrated!" chants.

Yorktown answered. Senior Eric Meyreles triggered a turnover, blurring out in transition and feeding Vercruysse for a 3-1 lead.

The 6-foot-3, 190-pound senior, who accounted for 80 percent of Yorktown's offense in a 5-3 resume victory over plenty-tough Chaminade, spotted up and delivered a dart.

 Yorktown extended its lead to 4-1 when Bonitatibus delivered a dish from Cavallo with 5:16 remaining in the second quarter.

Bonitatibus has gone from strictly a setup man to a setup man and scorer. Yorktown does not possess the same star power as it did last season, when they churned out six All-Americans.

The way Bonitatibus has been playing, however, particularly the way he's switched gears and eluded defenders from behind the cage, a new All-American may be minted in June.