Sunday, June 8, 2014

Huskers Outlast J-D In 2014 State Final 

A trio of Jamesville-DeWitt players swarmed and swatted him in unison, but Yorktown's Austin Fusco blurred out of traffic.

Motoring up Hofstra University's turf, the defenseman's eyes were burning and his head was overflowing with steam.

Yorktown's seventh New York State Championship was hanging in the balance.

A lofty goal, etched on the chalkboard since the first day of winter workouts, was at stake here.

Buoyed by a cage-to-cage burst of momentum, Fusco ditched his original plan.

Initially, Fusco's intentions were to whizz the rock to an angle side shooter for a transition pull-and-pop.

He had gone over the play a hundred times. He applied it during Yorktown's state semifinal win over Lynbrook, hitting Connor Vercruysse for a transition snipe.

This time, Fusco's legs kept flying. Adrenaline spiked through the senior's 6-foot-1, 195-pound frame at a maniacal rate.

The net looked wider than Sparkle Lake.

Shit, it looked wider than the Hudson River to the emotional senior captain and Defensive Game MVP.

As he coasted into the attack area, Fusco cocked back and ripped one into the top shelf, supplying a 10-8 edge with 5:20 remaining in the fourth quarter.

 Yorktown's notorious CROP student section, rowdy and animated and unrelenting since an early arrival, erupted.

Jamesville-DeWitt, which counterpunched Yorktown's early 4-0 run by rattling off four straight goals of their own, got within a goal on Hartford-bound Griffin Feiner's deep deposit with 46 seconds remaining.

Offensive Game MVP Luke Palmadesso, whose grit on the X enabled Yorktown's scoring threats to produce, won the ensuing face-off. The Huskers milked possession, bleeding the clock out.

Then, with the green wave of jerseys bracing each other, you could feel Yorktown's collective heart pumping through its chest.

The Huskers dispatched their helmets and sticks, celebrating a wild 10-9 New York State/Class B championship.

It is the second state title in 11 years for this storied Westchester County lacrosse program.

All season, the Huskers had a fair share of doubters.

Many opined Yorktown's road would reach a super-sized speed bump, screeching to a sudden halt against one of Long Island's brand name programs.

Others felt they lost mega luster from last season, with 2013 graduation claiming All-Americans Brian Prestreau (Penn State), Nick Mariano (UMass), and Trevor Koelsch (Johns Hopkins). It was a gaping void and Yorktown didn't possess the same star power.

There was five regular season losses, including back-to-backs for the first time in recent memory.

"We never really entertained any of that," Fusco said.

"If we did, it was for motivation. It needs to be a team effort. That's when we're at our best. That's kind of been our motto throughout the year. It's always got to be '1 through 33.'

Captains Fusco, Vercruysse, Eric Meyreles and Palmadesso, their hair cut and spliced into funky mohawks, each planted a kiss on the NY State championship plaque.

The state championship is back in Yorktown.

"It hasn't sunk in yet, it really hasn't," said Connor Vercruysse, a two-time All-American headed to Rutgers.

"I think it will later. We just won a state championship. We just never let this goal slip away from us. This really is the sickest moment of my life right here...I'll remember this until the day I die."

 Vercruysse certainly played as if time was running out on his life.

The bullish 6-foot-3 senior popped a layup on an interior dish from Billy Strassman, snapping the Red Rams' 4-0 surge and providing a 5-4 edge with 3:59 remaining in the second quarter.

Vercruysse capitalized on swift ball movement when he punched home a point-blank pop, supplying the Huskers with a 7-5 edge as 2:59 remained in the third quarter.

About 28 seconds later, Nicky Bonitatibus turned to the gear-changing speed that rendered him hard-to-guard this season.

Like a halfback sidestepping tacklers, Bonitatibus surged ahead of defenders, found a seam and buried a mid-range dart as Yorktown's lead swelled to 8-5.

Jamesville-DeWitt's Anthony DeGiovanni, an adept scorer on the fly, countered by lacing a heavily-contested goal.

Yorktown's depth surfaced.

Towson-commit Nick Delbene, a junior who draws more Justin Mabus comparisons by the day, cashed in on a nifty sidewinder rip to make it 9-6.

Fluid rock movement in the half-field set has been as critical as oxygen for the Huskers.

Since the beginning of the season, the focus was on maximizing the balanced scoring by inducing the slide and creating looks.

"Dodging from up top, we're always going to be looking to create confusion for defenses," said Meyreles at the season's start.

"We want to do this so we can move the ball and find the open man. It doesn't matter who is taking the shot. If it's a good shot, let it rip."

The evenly-matched Red Rams, while vastly outnumbered by Yorktown's Croppers and loyal alumni, had a cadre of polished attacks.

 They pocketed hard, contested shots and knocked timely pressure goals. Their grit never dissipated. Such was evident during back-to-back pops from Grayson Burns and DeGiovanni, closing the deficit to 9-8.

The Huskers sustained the poise and high-level resolve, a requirement for any program navigating late May and early June.

"We survived every push they made," said the SUNY Cortland-bound Bonitatibus, who went from strictly a facilitator to a facilitator and a scoring threat during the later stages of his career.

"Nothing can top this right now. We've been aspiring for this moment since we were little kids."

The moment was solidified by the hiked up defensive pressure. Senior netminder Austin Graham stoned the Red Rams on crucial surge to the cage. J-D had three straight opportunities to knot it up, but shots fell high and wide.

This was a senior class akin to cult brotherhood, a selfless core proving that depth outweighs star power on any scale.

The goal, from the beginning of the season, was to recapture the state championship that eluded it for 10 straight years.

On Saturday, the program's elitism was restored.

Dave Marr, cleaned up from the flow he once sported as a player, won his second New York State championship. He now has a hand in four of Yorktown's seven state titles, having won two as a player.

"It's always good to win your last game," the Husker boss said.