DUXBURY, Mass. – Nico Panepinto had the date committed to memory. He quickly recalled the date of last year’s MIAA Division 1 lacrosse final after Monday’s rematch against the No. 1-ranked Duxbury squad that had beaten Panepinto’s Needham Rockets at Harvard Stadium.
Taking a page from his own book, the Rockets’ senior attack replicated his personal performance that left revelers spellbound in last year’s championship game. Panepinto again scored four goals — each one increasing in stature and degree-of-difficulty — on Monday. But unlike last year’s meeting at season’s end, this time it was No. 6 Needham emerging with a two-goal win.
Joined by younger brother, Mike, the Panepintos combined to score all of the Rockets’ goals in a 6-4 win over the Dragons, dealing Duxbury its first in-state loss since the 2010 season. The Dragons (13-5) had won 48 straight MIAA games following their overtime loss to St. John’s Prep in that year’s Division 1 championship game.
“Sometimes he just gets in a zone and there’s no way to stop him,” Mike Panepinto said of his older brother.
Reminiscent of a valiant come-back effort in the aforementioned title game, Nico Panepinto again brought his best to the second of half of Monday’s bout.
Needham (14-2) trailed 3-1 at the half, but took the lead in the third quarter on a string of three straight goals from Nico Panepinto.
The Dragons fought back to tie the game, 4-4, with four minutes, 59 seconds to play in the game on a transition goal from Tyler Powers — the hero of Duxbury’s quadruple overtime win over Lincoln-Sudbury last week.
However, Mike Panepinto provided the heroics, answering just nine seconds later. The UMass commit won the ensuing faceoff cleanly, gained possession and, after drawing on two defenders and dodging straight on the cage, score the game-winner.
Nico Panepinto added his fourth of the game in the final minutes.
Needham goaltender Jack Curran made 11 saves to earn the win.
THE DYNAMIC DUO
The Rockets’ comeback in the third quarter very much started at the faceoff X.
Mike Panepinto was dominant on draws and in the third quarter won a string of three straight draws to start the second half. Each one of those face-off wins resulted in a Needham possession and, ultimately, goals his brother.
“He was consistently dominant today, and I think that paid off in the haul in terms of possessions,” Needham head coach Dave Wainwright said.
Not only did the Rockets set the tone in the second half, it also set the pace. After watching Duxbury score three goals off transition in the first half, including two from long-stick midfielder Jay Walsh, Wainwright was content to grind it out.
“One of our bigger worries that we had was the transition game,” Wainwright said. “We gave up some goals in the transition game today that were just quite scary. You put the ball on the ground, these guys can get up the field in a heartbeat.”
A FANTASTIC FINISH
For all of Nico Panepinto’s exploits against Duxbury, both in last year’s season-ending edition and Monday’s momentous win, perhaps none would be as memorable as his third goal scored in the Rockets’ win.
“That one-handed goal, I was going nuts,” Mike Panepinto said. “I didn’t even know what to say.”
That goal came at the 6:51 mark of the third quarter and provided Needham with its first lead of the game. After a faceoff win by Mike Panepinto set up the Rockets on another prolonged possession, Nico Panepinto drove the net, all the while drawing two Duxbury defenders to him. With one pole in pursuit and another in his pocket, the Fairfield signee drew a flag while being held just in front of the crease. Still, he was able to work his right arm free and, with his available hand, flick a bouncing shot into the net.
His reward for the gutsy move? A face full of turf as the Dragons’ defender collapsed on his back.
It drew rave reviews from the Needham sideline and that of his younger brother.
“I was glad to see him pull that off because he tried that last year against Duxbury,” Mike Panepinto said. “I’ve seen him try it a couple of times, but I’ve never actually seen him land it. That was pretty ridiculous that he pulled that off.
And, with it, he scored one of the prettiest and most important goals of year.