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YORKTOWN, N.Y. — The Yorktown boys lacrosse squad had been looking for a statement-making win all season. After coming up way short in lopsided losses to Long Island powerhouses Chaminade and Smithtown West, it started to look like a futile quest.
And then came Tuesday's game against Darien — the top dog in Connecticut.
Well, the Huskers (7-2) finally made their statement, pulling off a mammoth 11-9 upset win over the visiting Blue Wave (8-1) to capture the 4th annual Tom Lener Memorial Cup.
Darien — which entered the game undefeated — was ranked No. 5 in the most recent MSG Varsity Tri-State Lacrosse Top 20 and No. 20 in the most recent Under Armour/Inside Lacrosse National Rankings. Yorktown, meanwhile, was unranked in both polls.
"We just wanted to reach our potential," Yorktown captain Conor Gately said. "We knew we were lagging a bit. We got beat pretty badly by two Long Island teams, but we knew that wasn't the team we could be. Before this game we were saying that we just wanted to play four quarters of 'Yorktown lacrosse.' We did that and came out with a big win against a very good Darien team."
Yorktown wasted little time taking control of the game, jumping out to a 3-1 first-quarter lead that grew to 8-3 at the half. Darien outscored Yorktown 6-3 in the second half, but it was too little, too late.
The 11 goals were the most Darien had relinquished all season. The Blue Wave entered the matchup giving up an average of just 4.25 goals a game. It was more of the same for the Yorktown's explosive offense, which has pumped in an astonishing 52 goals in its last three wins over Hen Hud, Shenendehowa and Darien.
"That's what we've been trying to get to all season — that point where we're all clicking," Gately said. "And today it happened. We clicked against a real good defense. One guy didn't hold it too long and it was just bang, bang, bang. It came down to one-on-one with the goalie half the time. It was just moving off the ball really well and just finishing our shots."
And the Marquette-bound Gately was the maestro directing it all. The senior attackman basically looked like lacrosse's version of Steve Nash, dishing out a game-high five assists. His feet barely seemed to hit the turf as he gracefully diced up Darien's with effortless cuts behind the cage. Even more impressive, Gately did it all with Cornell-bound standout Tony Britton — one of the top defenseman in the nation — hounding his every step.
"(Gately) was moving his feet well," Yorktown coach Dave Marr said. "He had a good defenseman on him, but he couldn't really stay up with him. Our guys were doing a good job moving off the ball getting open and (Gately) has good eyes."
Outside of Gately, fellow attackman Connor Vercruysse also impressed with a hat-trick. The 6-2, 190-pound sophomore played the role of finisher perfectly, using his big frame to create space inside. Vercruysse, who has 10 goals over the last three games, just recently joined the first-line attack unit. He made the move after Frankie Fusco bumped up to midfield to provide the offense more firepower and versatility.
"We wanted more speed at the midfield on the grounders and on faceoffs," Marr said, explaining the rationale behind the move. "Frank brings a tremendous amount of energy anywhere he is. (Vercruysse) finishes the ball very well and works very well with (Gately) getting open. It kind of lets us get our better players on the field."
Needless to say, it has worked out pretty well. The Drexel-bound Fusco was omnipresent against the Blue Wave, ripping three goals off strong moves to the cage from up top. He also helped out on clears and on the defensive end. The versatile senior netted a pair of clutch second-half goals, halting a 3-0 Darien run to boost Yorktown's lead back to 9-5 with 6:28 left in the third quarter.
"Fusco's got a rip," Gately said. "If you get him up top from 15 yards, he will take it. And it's as good a shot as any. We are going to give him that everytime."
UMass-bound junior Nick Mariano (2G) was another key cog in Yorktown's offensive machine. He was also the driving force behind the Huskers' furious ride. Middies Brian Prestreau (2G) and Joey Raniolo (1G, 1A) rounded out the scoring.
Defensively, first-year varsity goalie Austin Graham turned in the performance of his young career. The sophomore netminder came up with 16 saves, including seven in the opening quarter alone.
"The biggest thing was standing tall in the net and not crouching down," Graham said. "They were putting shots up high, so that's where you want to be. I did that this game and it seemed to work out pretty well."
His teammates were certainly impressed.
"Austin was standing tall in the goal and played an incredible game," Fusco said. "It was one of the best games I've ever seen him play."
Hopkins-bound junior defenseman Trevor Koelsch also came up big, limiting Darien All-American attackman Case Matheis to just a goal. The Duke-bound Matheis, who still managed to make an impact with three fourth-quarter assists, was kept out on the perimeter for much of the game. Fellow defenseman Gzim Lajqi, a Mercy-bound senior, scooped up three ground balls.
Yorktown junior faceoff specialist Danny Manning was the final piece of the puzzle, winning 12 of 18 draws to help the Huskers build an early lead. He finished with 10 ground balls. Teammate Luke Palmadesso (4-for-5) also pitched in at the dot.
"If you talk about games like this, you look for goaltending and faceoffs," Marr said. "Today, I think we did pretty well in both categories. If we do that against good teams, we will have a chance to win."
Cornell-bound senior middie Henry West paced Darien with a game-high four goals, including three in the fourth quarter as the Blue Wave made a last-gasp comeback push. Teammates Jon Magnusson (3G, 1A), Bobby Weaver (2G) and Tim Murphy (2A) rounded out the offensive production. Goalie Phil Huffard made eight saves.
Yorktown — which has now won three straight since suffering a 14-4 loss to Smithtown West back on April 14 — will look to keep it going at Section 1 Class B foe Somers on Thursday. Darien travels to Brien McMahon for its next game on Friday.
Having shown the ability to beat an elite team, the Huskers now must learn to bring the same ruthless attitude each time out.
"We just have to know that it's in us," Gately said. "We just have to bring it out every game. We have a huge game against Somers on Thursday. No matter what anyone says Somers is going to compete. Whether we beat Darien, it doesn't matter. It's a new day."
GAME NOTES: Yorktown defeated Darien for the first time since 2009, which was also the inaugural year of the Tom Lener Memorial Cup. The two teams have split in their last four meetings … Conor Gately leads Yorktown in points with 46 on 13 goals and 46 assists … Frankie Fusco leads Yorktown in goals with 26, while teammate Nick Mariano is second with 18. Yorktown's Connor Vercruysse has scored 10 of his total 15 goals over the past three games.
YT (9:48) Brian Prestreau unassisted | 1-0 YT
YT (8:24) Connor Vercruysse from Conor Gately | 2-0 YT
DA (2:23) Henry West from Jon Magnusson | 2-1 YT
YT (1:13) Frank Fusco unassisted | 3-1 YT
YT (11:14) Prestreau unassisted | 4-1 YT
YT (10:43) Nick Mariano from Joey Raniolo | 5-1 YT
YT (10:12) Vercruysse unassisted | 6-1 YT
DA (8:45) Magnusson unassisted | 6-2 YT
YT (5:34) Vercruysse from Gately | 7-2 YT *
YT (3:04) Raniolo from Gately | 8-2 YT
DA (0:16) Bobby Weaver from Tim Murphy | 8-3 YT *
DA (8:29) Case Matheis unassisted | 8-4 YT
DA (7:08) Magnusson from Murphy | 8-5 YT *
YT (6:28) Fusco unassisted | 9-5 YT
YT (4:54) Mariano from Gately | 10-5 YT*
YT (11:34) Fusco from Gately | 11-5 YT*
DA (4:51) West from Matheis | 11-6 YT *
DA (4:30) West unassisted | 11-7 YT
DA (2:45) West from Matheis | 11-8 YT
DA (0:21) Weaver from Matheis | 11-9 YT
* Indicates manup goal
Darien 1 2 2 4 9
Yorktown 3 5 2 1 11
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Darien's Case Matheis had one assist. Matheis was credited with three assists.