A freshman goalie thrust into a high-pressure situation lent credence to the mantra ‘defense wins championships’ on Thursday.
Nicole Leska made 10 saves, several of them in the second half, as the Vestal girls lacrosse team held off Corning 10-8 to win the Section 4 Class B championship at Binghamton Alumni Stadium.
Vestal jumped out to a 10-5 lead and held on in the final minutes to beat Corning for the first time this season after losing to the Hawks twice earlier. Vestal (12-3), which never trailed, plays in the state regionals on May 31 at Ithaca High School against an opponent to be determined.
“Defensive effort was fabulous,” Vestal coach Dave Williams said. “(Leska)’s a good one, she kept us in it.”
But don’t ask Leska to pick which one of her 10 saves was the best of the night.
“Once it happens, I forget about it — once it’s a save or a goal,” she said.
Julia Lovaglia and Devon McKercher each recorded hat tricks for top-seeded Vestal, with McKercher adding an assist. Tomasina Leska added two goals and two assists.
Sara Grapevine and Taylor Mathis each scored twice for second-seeded Corning (12-6).
“Their defense looked stronger than it did in the past,” Corning coach Kim McNaney said of Vestal. “We weren’t able to run our offense the way we have all year, either.”
Tomasina Leska was the early catalyst, recording goals at 22:23 and 17:45, the second a solo effort, for Vestal. McKercher also scored early and Lyons’ goal at 16:36 to make it 4-1 forced a timeout by the Hawks.
Grapevine scored twice for Corning in a span of 2:22 to cut the deficit to 4-3, but Vestal — to that point quickly breaking into the offensive third — started making its possessions drawn-out affairs.
“We needed a strategy — as hard as we knew we were going to be playing on defense — we had to give those middies a break,” Williams said. “We needed to give them a break by getting it down there and then slowing it down on offense.”
Lyons scored for a 5-3 lead, and after a save by Nicole Leska, the Golden Bears held possession for nearly four minutes. When it finally did set up a play, Vestal had several runners rotating with cuts toward the crease and the one that did get the pass, Lovaglia, converted with 48.2 seconds remaining.
But then back to the quick strike offense was Vestal, getting a draw control and, after a restart on an official’s whistle, McKercher was left open by the Hawks defense and beat Sara Shaddock (5 saves) for an 8-4 edge.
McKercher completed the hat trick to make it 10-5 with 6:33 remaining before Corning made a late surge, scoring three goals in three minutes by Morgan Hogue, Mathis and then Grapevine with 3:27 remaining. Corning nearly scored with under a minute remaining to cut the deficit to one but Nicole Leska made the last of her 10 saves.
“We waited too long,” McNaney said. “We talked about coming out and being ready, yesterday in practice we were slow, today getting off the bus they weren’t ready to play at the level they needed to.”