ITHACA — Depending on who wins Saturday’s state Class A boys’ lacrosse state championship game, either one dynasty will be cemented or another might be started.
Ithaca High (18-1) takes on Long Island powerhouse West Islip (20-1) at 1:30 p.m. at Middletown High School for the right to be called “champion.” The fifth-ranked Little Red, which has never won a state title in boys’ lacrosse, is making its second consecutive trip to the title game, after bowing to Farmingdale, 12-11, in overtime a year ago.
Unfinished business has been the theme all season for Ithaca, fueling a regular season that yielded just one loss — which it avenged three days ago in the semifinals — a fourth-straight Section 4 title and two sparkling postseason performances in its most recent games.
Section 11 powerhouse West Islip, on the other hand, is in search of its fifth state crown in the past seven years, the last coming in 2010 when it beat Fairport, 13-5. The fourth-ranked Lions — state champions in ’06, ’07 and ’09, as well — also have lost just once this season and have outscored their opponents, 20-10, in two state playoff games.
The cream has indeed risen to the top.
After coming this far, Ithaca Coach Frank Welch says his team will not be shying away from the opportunity at hand.
“The kids have worked really hard for a whole year,” said Welch. “This has been a goal in the back of our mind all along. (West Islip) is another great program that we’re looking forward to playing against. We like competing against people.”
After picking apart upstart Liverpool, 18-8, in the state quarterfinals, the fourth-ranked Little Red battled to an 11-9 victory over top-ranked Fairport in Wednesday’s semifinal at Cicero-North Syracuse.
The Little Red fell behind, 7-5, midway through the third period before scoring five unanswered goals and buckling down defensively to avenge its only loss of 2012, a 12-7 decision on April 14. Senior attackman Paolo Ciferri said the loss was a turning point for Ithaca.
“It really fueled our season, I think,” Ciferri said. “Without that loss, maybe we would have come into the tournament a little bit cocky. Instead, we were able to come in hungry and with that revenge in our hearts.”
What also has fueled the Little Red’s return to the state final is an offensive depth unmatched by its opponents this postseason. Against Liverpool, Ciferri and junior midfielder Doug Biondi combined for seven goals while eight other players scored at least one.
In the semifinals, it was junior Jaedon Henderson netting a hat trick, with five other players scoring.
With no real “go-to” guy on offense — the Little Red has six players with 20 or more goals — Ciferri says the team has developed a flexibility and unspoken understanding both and off the field.
“We’ve all been playing together since 5, 6, 7 years old,” Ciferri said. “I think that has really helped us. Chemistry wise, it’s the closest team I’ve ever played on. I trust any of those guys with my life. It’s really a family.”
West Islip’s defensive unit promises to give that potent offense one last challenge.
The Lions, coached by Scott Craig, have given up double-digit goals only once this season (in a 14-11 win over Bay Shore) and are holding opponents to 5.3 goals per outing. In the state semifinals, West Islip held a Niskayuna squad averaging more than 17 goals to just six in a three-goal victory.