Blue Devils exercise patience, maturity in 11-5 win over Vestal to earn berth in Saturday's Class B title game

PITTSFORD — Of course the Victor Blue Devils trust their offense. And yes, the defense too.

But more importantly, they trust each other.

It hasn’t always been that way this season, and the trust and patience for this young team has been a process. On Wednesday night, there was a level a maturity on display by the Blue Devils, a maturity that was the driving force in their 11-5 win over Vestal of Section IV in the Class B state semifinal game at St. John Fisher College. 

The result is a third straight trip to the state championship game, this year against Yorktown of Section I. The Cornhuskers advanced by beating Garden City, 5-4, in double overtime on Wednesday.

“We made good things happen tonight,” said Victor coach Jim Andre. “We weren’t trying to rush things or force the ball.”

That’s a tough balance to strike in lacrosse, where the temptation of pushing the pace is easy to come by. But pulling back and waiting for opportunities often is the difference between winning and losing, so recognizing those opportunities when they present themselves is key.

In April, the Blue Devils didn’t have that. And they knew it.

“We’ve learned a lot,” said goalie Chayse Ierlan. “Everyone’s been taking practice more seriously and giving better efforts … I can definitely feel it on the defensive end. And we’re limiting the amount of defense we’re playing, which is good.”

The Victor defense has the Victor offense to thank for that, because the attackmen and midfielders were crisp with their movement of feet and the ball, and decisions were made with authority for shots and slides. That kept the Golden Bears of Vestal from testing the Victor defense early because, quite frankly, they didn’t have the ball. 

And even when they finally managed to gain their first offensive possession of any stature, it ended after just a few steps into the restraining box when the Vestal ballcarrier slipped and fell to create a turnover that Victor pounced on.

By this point, the Blue Devils already had a 4-0 lead on goals from Connor Keenan, Zach Estabrooks, Mitch Cain and Alexander Mabbett. The Golden Bears did finally manage sustained offensive work but didn’t take their first shot on goal until the final minutes of the first quarter and didn’t score their first goal until Brandon Bender cashed in with 45 seconds left in the first.

By then, it was a 5-0 Victor lead after Alex Hernandez cashed in on a Vestal turnover. 

“Take away that tough start for us and I think we’re hanging around in that game,” said Vestal coach Chris Dutkowsky. “That’s a good team over there and you can’t afford to make mistakes … We were out of position a few times and it came back to bite us.”

The coach does have a point. After giving up the first five goals of the game to Victor, it was a 6-4 game over the final three quarters.

But that’s why they’re called quarters; because there are four of them and Victor was the only team on point for all four. 

The only goal of the second quarter was Joey Pezzimenti’s finish in transition for a man-down goal, and when Estabrooks and Clark Andre scored at 7:45 and 5:54 of the third, it was an 8-1 lead for the Blue Devils. 

Vestal caught some momentum with Quinn Webster’s goal in the final minute of the third and then JT Stirpe’s goal early in the fourth, but Keenan (two goals), Estabrooks (three goals) and Andrew Russell reeled off goals in a 2:46 span for an 11-3 lead.

The end result was a dominant victory anchored in a tidy defensive effort that saw the Blue Devils hold their third straight opponent to five goals or less. It’s not a surprise to the Blue Devils as much as it’s a materialization of what hard work and discipline can do for a team.

“We were rushing everything (earlier this season),” said defenseman Tanner Hay. “But now we know when to slow it down … It just comes with experience.”

Victor (18-3) plays Yorktown (17-4) in the Class B state championship game on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at St. John Fisher College.