In a game of student versus teacher, the student won.
The Eastport South Manor boys lacrosse team, coached by Kevin Huff, lost, 11-6, at home to Miller Place, which is coached by Keith Lizzi, in the opening round of the Suffolk County Class B playoffs on Friday. Huff coached Lizzi at Smithtown High School 10 years ago, when the two won a county title together during Lizzi’s senior season.
While Friday’s game was the fourth time the two have met as coaches—the overall record is now 2-2—Friday’s loss hurts more for Huff, as it comes at playoff time. ESM was looking to reach the county semifinals for the third consecutive season. Miller Place, meanwhile, won its first playoff game in the four-year history of its varsity program.
With the victory, fifth-seeded Miller Place advanced to the semis and was scheduled to play top-seeded Comsewogue today, May 23, at 4 p.m.
“It’s not pleasant,” Huff said after the game. “[Lizzi] is one of my all-time favorites. I don’t like beating him, but I don’t like losing to him also.”
Lizzi couldn’t say enough about his former coach.
“Coach Huff, to me, growing up, was like a second father, a mentor, and I just told him at the end of the game that I learned from the best,” he said. “I have the utmost respect for him and his program. A lot of what I learned has come from him since I was in seventh grade.”
ESM trailed Miller Place only by a goal, 4-3, at halftime, but the Panthers scored six unanswered goals in the second half to go up 10-3. ESM sophomore Danny Dowsett ended the Panthers run with 6:37 remaining in the game, and the Sharks never backed down, scoring the final two goals of the game, but Miller Place was on its way to its first playoff victory. It’s the second time the Panthers defeated the Sharks this season, paired with a 9-4 win at ESM on March 27.
Huff explained that once his team fell behind in the third quarter, his players felt the need to make up the deficit right away, instead of sticking to the game plan, which forced them to make too many errors. “They match up athletically,” Huff said of the Panthers. “They’re an older group. They’ve got a good coaching staff over there, and they’re good players. They’re a relatively young program, younger than us, but they’ve been playing [travel lacrosse] for a number of years now. They’re a good squad. I wouldn’t be surprised if they win it all, to be honest with you.”
Lizzi said his team was fortunate to take advantage of the mistakes ESM made. “When you play a team that is going to be coached by a legend, you’re going to know that they’re not going to make a lot of mistakes,” he said. “So you just have to go out and prepare and have an idea of what they’re going to do in every situation, prepare to play against a team that’s going to play for four straight quarters—and they did.
“I have the utmost respect for those guys,” Lizzi added. “They played their butts off all season long.”
Both goalies played very well. ESM senior goalie Will Henderson made 14 saves but was outdone by Miller Place senior Matt Liantonio, who stopped 18 shots. ESM didn’t score a goal in the third quarter.
Miller Place senior Ryan Callahan scored a hat trick and had two assists, while senior captain James Nielsen had two goals and three assists. Junior Liam Walsh and senior Steven Liantonio scored two goals each.
Dowsett and junior Patrick Kenneally scored two goals each for ESM. Junior Tyler Weiss and senior Dan Happe scored a goal each.
ESM will have to regroup next year after losing seven seniors to graduation next month. Henderson, Happe, Tom Johnson, Cody Pugal, Dave Meyers, Frankie Denicola and Matt Prokesch, who is attending the University of Delaware, will all be leaving the team. There will be a number of juniors returning to the team next season as seniors.
“We have seven seniors, and all participated and contributed to the team,” Huff said. “Seven of them started. It’s a lot to lose, but I think we have a lot of experience coming back in our juniors.”