By ADAM SHINDER
Recorder Sports Staff
A loose ball that rolled just out of the crease and a clearing pass into traffic that took a bounce in the wrong direction. Two slip-ups that ultimately spelled the end of the season for the Amsterdam High School lacrosse team.
Tied with visiting Troy High midway through the fourth quarter of Saturday's opening-round Section II Class B playoff game, the Rams fell behind for the first time when Troy's Joel Braun pounced on a ball that rolled out of Amsterdam goalie Dillon Smith's crease and quickly stuffed a shot into the cage. The Rams managed to tie the game two minutes later, but with 2:19 to play, Smith's long clearing pass was batted back toward the Amsterdam defensive end and scooped up by Troy's Thomas Nealon, who found Tyler Littlejohn on the doorstep for the go-ahead goal.
The Rams never even got the ball back into the offensive half of the field over the final two minutes as Troy -- which had been swept by Amsterdam in two regular season meetings -- killed the remaining time to hold on for a 6-5 victory.
"It's tough to play a team three times in one season, especially when you've already beaten them the first two," said Amsterdam coach Paul Furman. "They're young boys, they might get a little to the point where they think this is gonna be an easy game for us to win, maybe get a little overconfident with already beating them twice. This team came in today, they outhustled us. They earned it."
Though the Rams never led by more than two goals -- they led 2-0 late in the first quarter and 4-2 late in the second -- they dictated play for long stretches of the game, only for a couple of fourth-quarter gaffes to come back and bite them.
"Bad decisions, today they hurt us. A bad decision on the clear just chucking down to the attackmen," Furman said. "When we have rules, we need to follow them. We can't just do whatever we want. We have a plan set in place, we've got to do it. When we execute the plan, it works and we do well."
The Rams got goals from Matt Fedullo, Robert Santiago, Jon Magaletti and Anthony Yevoli in the first half, but managed to put just one goal -- when Hector Diaz found Magaletti on the crease to tie the game at 5-5 with 4:32 left in the second half -- past Troy goalie Dante Watts over the final 24 minutes of the game.
A large part of that offensive drought came from the Rams' struggles in clearing the ball out of their own defensive zone. With the Flying Horses playing at a slow pace on offense throughout the second half, Amsterdam's offensive chances were already minimized, and the problems successfully getting the ball past midfield only exacerbated the issue.
"Our strength this year was our clearing and being able to get the ball down into the offensive end," Furman said. "Today, our clearing is what hurt us. In the end, our greatest strength ended up being our greatest weakness."
Meanwhile, Nealon tied the game for Troy in the opening two minutes of the second half before Braun pounced on the loose ball for the go-ahead goal with 6:20 to play in the fourth. After Magaletti equalized for Amsterdam and Littlejohn put the Flying Horses back on top, Troy coach Brian Benner said holding the Rams off for the final 2:19 came down to the efforts of experienced players like Braun and Nealon, who missed the meeting between the two teams on May 7 when Amsterdam routed Troy, 9-0.
"We had guys that've been playing for three years on the team, and they kind of took over," Benner said. "They slowed the ball down, settled it really well and kept their heads."
While the Flying Horses will move on to face nationally-ranked No. 1 seed Niskayuna in the quarterfinals Tuesday, the Rams will have to reflect on a season that, although it ended on a sour note, did produce a program-best nine wins and leaves behind a solid corps of players to move on into Furman's second season at the helm in 2013.
"It's looking positive for next year," Furman said. "They accomplished something that's never been accomplished in this program -- nine wins, the highest anyone's ever got before was eight -- so it's definitely a step in the right direction."