NEWTON, Mass. – Less than 24 hours after its biggest win in nearly a decade, the Needham High School lacrosse team was drained and maybe a bit hungover from all the excitement.
The Rockets (15-2), fresh off a 6-4 win over former No. 1 Duxbury, came out flat against Newton North (11-4) and had to fend off a late-game rally to bring home a 12-8 victory. With the win, Needham clinched its 10th-straight Bay State League title.
“I feel like we definitely had a mental lapse. These guys did something that is so monumental for our program, and not just this season, I'm talking about our program for the last 10 years, and they've been feeling it,” said Needham head coach David Wainwright. “A lot of people have been patting them on the back today, and people need to stop doing that because we've got to get ready for the playoffs.”
After goals from Nico and Mikey Panepinto early in the fourth quarter, Needham appeared to be in control with a commanding 11-4 lead. However, Newton North, fueled by attackman Anthony Wyse, stormed back with four unanswered goals.
The newly anointed No. 1 Rockets were able to stem the tide with two long possessions, and Nico Panepinto slammed the door shut when he rolled in his second goal of the game with less than a minute remaining.
Wainwright said his team was essentially waiting for the win and didn't keep its foot on the gas.
“We kind of sat back a little bit more and tried to waste some time off the clock rather than keeping going toward the net and keep doing what was working,” he said. “When you start changing things like that, teams can all of a sudden adapt, which they did.”
Newton North's strategy was to win the possession game, which it did throughout the first half. However, the Rockets started winning the lion's share of face offs in the second half, and their athleticism took over.
Needham ended up with a 13-10 edge on faceoffs, many of which came in the third quarter when the Rockets outscored Newton North, 5-2.
“I thought our guys did a fairly good job. Our game plan was to possess the ball and keep it away from them. … I think we did that for the most part,” said Newton North head coach Bussy Adam. “We struggled a little bit on the face-offs, and that hurt us a little bit.”
The Rockets were led by Mikey Panepinto and Robbie Pisano, who had four and three goals, respectively. Pisano was a spark plug for the Rockets offense and scored two of his three goals by attacking the middle of Newton North's defense.
“It was also important that we didn't lose any momentum. We wanted to keep that going after the Duxbury win. We knew that if we didn't win this game, that would have meant nothing,” Pisano said.
Big House: Newton North's Wyse is a big man, and opposing coaches know they have their hands full when trying to keep him away from the goal. The junior, who baffles opposing goalies with his quick left-handed shot, had four goals and an assist against Needham.
“He's a house. That's the best way to describe it. When he comes your way, if you don't get positioning first, he's going to run right through you, and he was able to do that today,” Wainwright said. “Even though we knew about it, we couldn't stop it.”
Brotherly Love: The Panepinto brothers are two of the better lacrosse players in Massachusetts and are a major reason why Needham is positioning itself for a run at the state title.
Nico, a senior, will play for Fairfield University next year, while Mikey, a junior, will head to the University of Massachusetts.
“They're special guys. I think I've said that four, five or six times this year. Time and time again they show up and do great things for us,” Wainwright said. “I don't even know who got what for points, but I know they're difference-makers. For our guys, they look toward those guys to generate and initiate things, but we need to be more of a well-rounded team moving forward.”
Up Top: Newton North goalie John Hogan had a pretty solid game in a losing effort. During the first half, he held Needham to four goals while systematically stopping nearly every above-the-belt shot that came his way.
He finished the game with 10 saves.
“He was doing very well, especially in the first half. We missed a bunch of shots. He played very, very well I thought,” Pisano said.
Needham started to get to Hogan once they changed up their approach and started firing the ball at his feet. A number of shots were from point-blank range, and Hogan had little chance to make the stop.
“In the beginning of the game, I think they had some high shots on him and (Hogan) stopped them,” Adams said. “In the third and the beginning of the fourth quarter they started to shoot low and made it a little more difficult for the save.”