Follow me on Twitter
Don't Miss

Gladiator makes game saving shot to win championship

wv

WAYNE – Nick Beninati stood firm in net, with a stick ready by his side and one clear focus.

The Passaic County boys lacrosse championship was about to come down to his next move. Whatever happened, he couldn’t let the game go to overtime.

In front of him, West Milford’s Drew Kagdis sneaked past the defense and fired a shot from around the crease. Instinctively, Beninati stuck out his right shin and blocked the ball.

Wayne Valley’s sophomore goalie became the unlikely hero in his team’s unbelievable tournament run. The fourth-seeded Indians defeated second-ranked West Milford, 7-6, at Wayne Hills for a championship win that surprised almost everyone but the team itself.

And Beninati became the perfect player to finish off the underdog run. He made the game-saving stop with about seven seconds left Saturday, despite starting the season as a third-string goalie.

“We were supposed to lose in the first round,” Beninati said. “We proved everybody wrong, then again in the second round and now here. This is the best feeling of my life.”

Wayne Valley faced an uphill battle in the tournament, drawing defending-champion DePaul in the first round and top-seeded Lakeland in the semifinals. Finally they faced the Highlanders, who came in on a six-game winning streak and beat the Indians earlier in the season.

“We came in this morning and I had a couple of different articles, all picking West Milford,” coach Dave Ahlert said. “I put them down and said ‘Put your chips in guys because we’re playing with house money’. Everybody thinks we’re going to lose. So what do we have to lose? Nothing.”

Wayne Valley came out flat.

West Milford took an early 4-2 lead by using quick cuts to the goal and strong play from Kagdis and Anthony Pellegrino. But Wayne Valley regrouped and returned to its strengths – patient offense, taking time off the clock and team defense.

The Indians went on a 5-0 run that spanned the second and third quarters. And Ahlert’s “three-headed monster” on defense settled in. The back line of Stas Lembryk, Ryan McLean and Nick Akshar held the Highlanders scoreless for about 27 minutes.

“We all have strengths and we all have weaknesses,” McLean said. “We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. That’s what makes us great. We know how to pick each other up.”

Vin Tedesco scored with 2:20 left in the third quarter in what turned out to be the championship-winning goal. Nick Irwin added two goals for Wayne Valley.

They provided just enough offensive support for the Indians in their third county championship in five seasons. Beninati allowed two goals in the fourth quarter, but none in the final four minutes.

“He doesn’t get too up and he doesn’t get too down,” Ahlert said. “Having somebody in goal who’s not going to have those wild swings of emotion is really important because there’s going to be times when we’re going to have a couple of goals put in net.”

Beninati moved up from the projected JV goalie to varsity backup when a player left the program. Beninati gradually earned more time with his steady play and ability to move the ball up the field. He took over as the starter at the beginning of the tournament and didn’t let go of that role.

His calm demeanor never wavered, even as teammates screamed around him after the game as he tried to recount the save – and the journey that led up to it. “I’ve never been in a game this cool,” he said, without breaking a smile.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Social Share Buttons and Icons powered by Ultimatelysocial