DIX HILLS, New York, May 22
BY: Andrew Wroblewski
If there was ever a time to apply the saying “a tale of two halves,” it would be for Monday’s boys lacrosse playoff game between No. 7 Half Hollow Hills East (12-4) and No. 10 Hauppauge (11-6).
After trailing Hauppauge 7-6 at halftime, the Thunderbirds rallied to score 13 goals and take the game by a final score of 19-10.
“Our focus was all wrong,” Gordon Hodgson, head coach for Hills East, said of his team’s play in the first half. “We were playing nervous and we weren’t concentrating on the fundamentals – but we sucked it up, readjusted our heads, and dominated in the second half.”
Sophomore Joe Wulforst helped Hills East with that readjustment by scoring a huge power-play goal within the first 30 seconds of the second half to tie the game at 7. From there, Hills East never looked back as they outscored the Eagles 13-3 in the final 24 minutes of the game.
“Our face-off guys really came to play today,” Hodgson said after the game. “Derek Merckling had the best game of his career and helped us to dominate the face-offs and the groundballs.”
While Merckling’s efforts go mostly unseen on the scorecard – he recorded 1 assist in the game – the rest of the Thunderbirds’ names appear early and often. Including Wulforst, nine of Hill East’s players put the ball into the back of the net, which Hodgson described as “a great team effort.”
Also receiving recognition were senior co-captain Nick Pellegrino – 4 goals, 2 assist – and sophomore Joe Tesoriero – 4 goals, 1 assist – whom Hodgson made sure to call out after the game.
“[Pellegrino] was our leading ground ball guy and the heart of our team,” Hodgson said. “[Tesoriero] had a great game too. He was in the right spots, finishing, doing all the stuff we’ve been working on.”
Hodgson credited his team’s performance to its “outstanding” four days of practice in the time leading up to the Hauppauge game. The Thunderbirds would undoubtedly need another day of great practice on Tuesday as they prepared to take on No. 2 Sachem North (13-3), who earned a first-round bye in the Suffolk County Division I playoffs.
“They’re the two seed. They’ve only lost three games all year,” Hodgson said of Sachem North. “It’s going to be difficult, but we’re playing with a lot of confidence right now so who knows what’ll happen.”
The game occurred after press time, but Hills East got the best of the Flaming Arrows winning 5-3 when they played in April. If Hills East emerged with a victory on Wednesday they’ll take on the winner of No. 3 Smithtown East (13-3) and No. 11 Northport on Friday at 4 p.m. with the location of the game dependent on which school is the higher seed.
Originally published: Long Islander News: Half Hollow Hills (Thursday, May 22, 2014; A23)