BY JIM SCHILTZ
VESTAL — Mike Vorgang will not tolerate a player throwing his helmet. Saturday, though, was an exception.
There is a first time for everything.
“That’s the best, watching the smiles on their faces,” said Niskayuna’s longtime lacrosse coach, who clapped when the helmets flew on the turf Saturday afternoon at Vestal High School. “A lot of other years ended with tears in their eyes, and not the right kind of tears.”
After 13 state tournament appearances ended with a slow walk off the field, Niskayuna finally went the distance — and afterward went helmet-tossing wild — with Saturday’s historic 13-10 Class A title-game victory over West Genesee.
“This shows our little guys and the ones in other programs that it can be done,” said Vorgang, who has been Niskayuna’s varsity coach since its inception in 1994. “It will be done.”
Not only was it the first-ever New York lacrosse title for Niskayuna (21-2), but for all of Section II, and it came against a West Genesee (Section III, 18-3) team that was looking to add to its state record of 15 championships.
“We’ve been thinking about throwing the helmets up since we were little kids,” said midfielder John Prendergast, one of Niskayuna’s eight seniors. “We wanted to finish off our careers doing this.”
Niskayuna’s midfield cast of Aidan O’Brien, Prendergast and Lucas Quinn accounted for 12 of the 13 goals, Dylan Pantalone won 16 faceoffs and Nick Testa made 17 saves in a win that was both impressive and significant in so many ways.
Niskayuna is the only Section II’s boys’ team to reach state title games, with a 15-2 Class A loss to West Genesee in 2005 and a 10-5 Class B loss to Canandaigua in 2009 preceding Saturday’s contest in which the Silver Warriors led after each quarter.
Fourth-quarter tallies by O’Brien and Prendergast gave the Silver Warriors five-goal leads, and as the final seconds ticked away, a large crowd of supporters, including many lacrosse alumni, began to cheer loudly as Niskayuna hockey player Matt Peretti ran the length of the bleachers with a large black flag emblazoned with the letter ‘N’.
“When you go into a game like this, you want to win not only for your coaches, and not just for the team, but for the players who paved the way for us. The past players,” Prendergast said. “I’m so glad we were able to get it done for Niskayuna.”
And those past players, even the most accomplished of alumni, basked in this win.
“I won a national championship at Johns Hopkins in 2007, but I can’t say I have one of these,” Mark Bryan, a star midfielder on Niskayuna’s 22-1 2005 team, said during the post-game celebration. “These guys can say they did it. To finally see it happen, it’s out of this world.”
Niskayuna won its third state semifinal game Wednesday by knocking off nationally-ranked Syosset 14-11. Five other times Niskayuna fell in state semis, including a last-second 10-9 setback against Garden City in 2013.
“I’ve been on the other end of this, and it’s not fun,” said Pantalone’s brother, Tyler, who handled the faceoffs for that 2013 team.
O’Brien scored five goals, Prendergast notched three of his four in the second half, and Quinn delivered three.
“This was my last game in a Niskayuna uniform,” said the North Carolina-bound O’Brien. “I was going to go as hard as I could. I wanted to bring it home for our school, our town and coach Vorgang.”
Niskayuna held a 9-7 third-quarter lead when Quinn and Prendergast scored 14 seconds apart, sandwiched around a faceoff win by Dylan Pantalone. The Silver Warriors went up 12-7 and 13-8 in the fourth on goals by O’Brien and Prendergast.
“I knew it was going to be the longest 12 minutes of my life,” said Testa. “We were able to hold the ball for long [fourth-quarter] possessions, and that helped. We kept it away from them.”
Testa, a Villanova commit who was named the game’s most valuable player, made six saves in the last quarter after stopping seven shots in the third.
“We hit four pipes, and their goalie made some great saves,” said West Genesee coach Mike Messere, the nation’s all-time wins leader with 803 over 40 years. “That was the difference.”
“Nick Testa is half cyborg. He’s just awesome. Amazing,” said Prendergast, who is headed to Duke. “I told him at the end of the third, ‘We need a few more saves.’ I don’t know if he heard me, but that’s what he did.”
Niskayuna trailed in the first quarter 2-1, 3-2 and 4-3 before James Sexton and Quinn scored, and O’Brien’s trio of second-quarter goals helped the Silver Warriors open up an 8-6 advantage.
“We had a couple of turnovers, but other than that, we put on a show,” said Dylan Pantalone. “We had the big win Wednesday, and we rode it like a wave into this game.”