The Pittsford girls lacrosse team dug itself a four-goal hole in last year’s state tournament semifinals, but the Panthers made sure history didn’t repeat itself on Friday morning at State University College at Cortland.
After falling behind 2-1 early, they stormed back to score six straight goals, led by four at halftime and poured it on in the second half en route to a convincing 11-5 win over defending state champion West Islip of Section XI. Pittsford (19-2) will play for its first Class A state title at 9:30 a.m. Saturday against Section III’s Christian Brothers Academy (20-0), which beat Section I’s North Rockland 14-8 in Friday’s other semifinal.
“This win today was incredible. Any win at this point is amazing. To be able to play one more game is awesome,” Pittsford senior Maddie Miller said by phone. “We want to win tomorrow, obviously, but we’re going to play our hearts out because it’s going to be our last game together as a team.”
The Panthers, who’ve made it to the semis five times in the past seven years, have reached the title game only one other time and lost it in heart-breaking fashion. In 2011, they failed to protect a two-goal lead over the final eight minutes of regulation and lost 11-10 to Long Island’s Northport on a goal with 1.3 seconds left in the second overtime.
University of Virginia-bound senior Megan Plain, who missed the end of last year’s Section V tournament and states with a leg injury, led Pittsford with four goals and Miller had three goals and four assists. Junior attack Caroline Cullinan had two goals and an assist. Sophomore Michelle Messenger had five saves in goal.
West Islip led by a goal twice over the first six minutes, but junior midfielder Jenna Doyle tied it at 2, igniting a six-goal surge over the next 16 minutes. Miller’s free-position shot made it 3-2 and the Panthers never trailed again. Miller fed Plain for a goal, then Cullinan passed to junior Jillian Quevedo for another. Miller scored unassisted with 7½ minutes left in the half and suddenly it was 6-2. Cullinan’s goal off another Miller pass made it 7-2.
“When Maddie got the ball today behind the cage they were sending a double team on her most of the day,” Panthers coach Donovan Lopez said. “She did really well, escaping the double team and a number of times a cutter came free.”
Cullinan and Plain were the beneficiaries. Cullinan said teammates have become accustomed to Miller, who is going to Westpoint, being a catalyst. Her 56 goals and 21 assists lead Pittsford. Cullinan, named Player of the Game, is second with 34 goals and is tied with Miller with 21 assists.
“When they double team, there’s someone open all the time. It was really great that everyone recognized when they were open so I could get a feed off,” Miller said.
Pittsford led 7-3 at halftime and three straight goals to start the second half — Miller assisted on two and Plain scored twice — put the Panthers in control, up 10-3.
West Islip scored two straight to slice it to 10-5 with about 11 minutes remaining and Lopez called timeout.
“We can’t let up,” Cullinan said was the general message during Pittsford’s huddle.
After the timeout, Miller, a team captain with Plain and three-sport standout Abbey Leon (soccer/basketball), delivered a huge momentum-changing goal to make it 11-5.
Section V teams have won only three championships since the state tournament started in 1995, all in Class B. Penn Yan won in 1998 and 2004 and Brighton in 2005. In Class A, in addition to Pittsford’s loss in the 2011 final, Penfield lost in 2012 title game 9-5 to West Genesee. Unbeaten CBA, ranked first in the state, stands in Pittsford’s way of making history.
“We scrimmaged them early on when snow was flying. They handled us pretty easily,” Lopez said. “But that was a long time ago (and Plain was still sidelined.”