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WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Yorktown's path to its astonishing 35th Section 1 title was anything but easy.
The top-seeded Huskers (15-4) needed overtime to pull off a thrilling 9-8 victory against No. 2-seeded John Jay-Cross River (12-7) in Wednesday's Class B championship game.
Sophomore attackman Connor Vercruysse buried the game-winning goal with 1:36 left in overtime off a feed from Marquette-bound senior attackman Conor Gately (3A).
“We came out with passion in the overtime and got the win,” said Vercruysse, who paced Yorktown with a game-high three goals. “(Gately) came behind and he pushed it. I cut down backside, caught it and let it go.”
And then the Huskers let their sticks, helmets and gloves go, tossing them high into the night sky in celebration. There was also probably a little feeling of relief mixed in, too.
After all, John Jay-CR looked destined to steal the title after it miraculously forced overtime with a pair of goals inside the final 40 seconds of regulation. Frazier Bostwick struck first to cut Yorktown's lead to 8-7 and then Dan LoBosco buried the equalizer with 11.2 seconds left.
Huskers senior captain Frank Fusco had a fitting reaction: “Oh, my God!”
“It was a huge momentum swing,” said Fusco, who ripped two goals. “But we came in, gathered ourselves and told each other we weren't going to go out like this. We fought through the pain and cramps to finish the game off.”
The game looked be well in hand as Yorktown dominated the third quarter, outscoring the Indians 4-1 to extend its lead to 7-4 at the 4:01 mark. The Huskers pulled away thanks in part to a one-minute non-releasable penalty called on John Jay-CR's Doug Brown, who forced Joey Raniolo out of the game with a shoulder injury. UMass-bound attackman Nick Mariano (2G, 2A) scored a man-up goal at 4:47 to make it 6-4 and then assisted Brian Prestreau (2G) as time expired in the penalty to extend it to a three-goal lead.
John Jay-CR was flagged for four penalties overall, while Yorktown was whistled for zero. The Huskers went 2 for 4 on their extra-man chances. Vercruysse cashed in on the other, breaking a 2-2 tie with 10:06 left in the first half.
"(Yorktown) has six guys on their man-up that are threats," John Jay-CR coach Tim Schurr said. "They are going to find the open guy."
Still, the Indians continued to battle, scoring four of the final five goals of regulation to force overtime. Senior attackman Matt Ferentini was the standout on offense with two goals and two assists. Tommy Beck, Ryan Lee, Andrew Duffy and Doug Brown chipped in with one goal apiece.
Even more impressive, John Jay-CR did most of its damage without its top offensive player in Beck. The junior middie injured his wrist late in the first quarter and did not return.
“Tommy's one of the best players in the section,” Schurr said. “To lose him, it's a credit to the other guys that stepped up and played so well.”
Fairfield-bound goalie Tom Branca was undoubtedly the best, coming up with 18 huge saves to keep Yorktown's potent offense from lighting up the scoreboard.
“He's been solid for us all year,” Schurr said of Branca. “I don't have enough good things to say about him. He's been terrific.”
In overtime, John Jay-CR actually had the first crack to win it. After losing the opening faceoff, the Indians quickly won the ball back and called a timeout at the 3:41 mark. Coming out of the huddle, Schurr opted to run an isolation from up top with star long-stick middie Jack Lambert. As Lambert charged to the cage, the ball was jarred loose and Yorktown's top long-stick middie Austin Fusco scooped it up. The Huskers proceeded to call timeout and cashed in on the ensuing possession to win it.
While it was somewhat strange to see a long pole looking to dodge from up top with the game on the line, Schurr was more than comfortable with the decision.
“Jack Lambert — in my estimation — has been the best athlete on the field in every single game we've played,” Schurr said. “He's a great competitor and he's our best shooter. We thought we would throw a new wrinkle at them. We had a good matchup from our vantage point and the guy played good defense on (Lambert). I think Jack just dropped the ball at the end there. It was somewhat of a calculated risk, but we think he's our best player. Even though he's a defender, we thought having the ball in the stick of our best player was not a bad idea.”
Yorktown had the same line of thinking, putting the ball in Gately's stick. Not surprisingly, he came through with his team-high 76th assist of the season.
“I was frustrated with the way I played and I didn't think I had done enough for my team,” Gately said. “The whole game (offensive coach Sean Carney) was getting on me to run and use my speed. On the restart I picked up the ball, ran as hard as I could to the right side and lobbed it backside. With (Vercruysse) right there, that's a goal nine out of 10 times.”
For the Huskers, the odds of winning always seem pretty good. They will look to continue the trend in the regional finals against Section 2's Queensbury on June 2 at Clarkstown South High School at 6 p.m.
John Jay-CR 2 2 1 3 0 8
Yorktown 1 2 4 1 1 9
JJ (5:41) Tommy Beck unassisted | 1-0 JJ
JJ (3:37) Ryan Lee unassisted | 2-0 JJ
YT (1:12) Frank Fusco unassisted | 2-1 JJ
YT (10:55) Brian Prestreau from Gately | 2-2
YT (10:06) Connor Vercruysse from Gately | 3-2 YT *
JJ (5:17) Andrew Duffy from Shawn Smith | 3-3
JJ (0:01) Matt Ferentini unassisted | 4-3 JJ
YT (9:03) Vercruysse from Nick Mariano | 4-4
YT (6:11) Nick Mariano unassisted | 5-4
YT (4:47) Mariano unassisted | 6-4 YT *
YT (4:01) Prestreau from Mariano | 7-4 YT
JJ (2:28) Ferentini unassisted | 7-5 YT
JJ (6:05) Brown from Ferentini | 7-6 YT
YT (3:18) Fusco unassisted | 8-6 YT
JJ (0:40.6) Frazier Bostwick unassisted | 8-7 YT
JJ (0:11.2) Dan LoBosco from Ferentini | 8-8
YT (1:36) Vercruysse from Gately | 9-8 YT
* Indicates man-up goal
John Jay-CR: Tom Branca (18 saves)
Yorktown: Austin Graham (8 saves)
John Jay-CR: 7/19
John Jay-CR: 18
John Jay-CR: 14
Email Isaac Cass at Icass@cablevision.com | Follow him on Twitter @MSGV_Icass