Johnny Denis is on a serious roll, and his lofty goal totals have helped cover up some of Lakeland’s defensive miscues in recent weeks.
The junior forward, a Journal News Elite 11 selection, notched two goals and an assist in the Hornets’ 4-3 win over Yorktown at the College of Mount St. Vincent on Saturday, but he was disappointed that his team allowed the Huskers to make it close after taking a three-goal lead into halftime.
“I think towards the end we lost our legs and our heart, basically,” said Denis, who has 16 goals and six assists in his last six games. “We have to put in 100 percent all game to have a full 80 minutes and cleanly win the game.”
Marcello Spiniello put Yorktown up 1-0 with a well-placed strike from about 25 yards out in the 11th minute, but the lead was short-lived.
Denis was fouled in the Yorktown box in the 18th minute and converted the penalty kick to tie it at 1-1.
“I knew (Yorktown goalkeeper) Jacob (Braham) was going to dive to his right, so I cut it in, and he dove,” Denis said. “He took my foot out and it was a penalty.”
Denis scored again in the 25th minute on a rebound after Braham saved Cullen Malzo’s shot, and then Malzo scored in the 30th minute on an assist from Matias Prando.
Less than two minutes before the half, Denis crossed to a streaking Mike O’driscoll to make it 4-1.
“We came out in the first 10 minutes and put the ball in the net,” Yorktown coach Ed Polchinski said. “We had possession, we were playing with a lot of determination, and then they just thought that they had the game. You can’t do that against Lakeland. They’re going to keep coming at you, and they have that one player Johnny, who is amazing.”
But the Huskers (3-5-1) wouldn’t go down without a fight.
They dominated possession in the second half, and in the 55th minute, Mohamed Hamza cut the deficit to 4-2.
Spiniello missed a goal by inches over the crossbar in the 60th minute and Lakeland goalkeeper Javier Gonzalez made a close range save on Roy Reynolds in the 71st.
Reynolds would score in the 74th minute to make it 4-3, but the Hornets (6-1-1) held on desperately for the win.
“We got the win, but we put on a clinic for how not to finish a game today in the second half,” Lakeland coach Tim Hourahan said. “To be honest with you, the first 10 minutes and the last 40, we got outplayed. We’re just fortunate that we had an incredible 30 minutes where we scored four goals, and our top guy was there for three of those.”
Here are more of my thoughts and observations from the game:
• When Lakeland is clicking offensively, this team can be so dangerous. Denis’ scoring totals are ridiculous — he’s averaging 2.7 goals per game in his last six — and there are several weapons surrounding him. Anyone who is going to have a shot against the Hornets in Class A will need to defend well, and most importantly, contain Denis. “That is definitely the strength of the team – attacking,” Denis said. “A lot of sophomores came up, like Matias, Jordan Fein; Mike O’driscoll came up, who’s a senior. The team is playing well attacking, but defensively, we still have to work.”
• How nice is it to have a player like Denis? “We just have a dynamic, dynamite player. If he’s not the best, he’s definitely in the top five scorers in the entire section. It’s nice as a coach to have a guy who you know, it’s not even one (goal) anymore; it’s two a game,” Hourahan said. “We tried to move him around in the second half, as well, because they were man-marking him. We moved him to midfield from center forward, but it’s very comforting as a coach to know that you have a guy who is averaging over two goals a game.”
• What were some of the defensive issues that Hourahan saw in the second half? “Miscommunication. Sloppy passing when, really, we could have just kept the ball forever if we wanted to. Not winning the balls in the air from the holders that we have,” he said. “We made a few changes back there, and it looked very good against Peekskill and very good against Beacon, but it didn’t look very good today for 50 minutes. We’re still trying to figure out how we want that back four to look. We moved Gino (Cassese) from the midfield to a center back, but he’s really our biggest presence in the middle of the field, so maybe we need to take a look at it again. We have options, and shoot, we still have eight games, so it’s a work in progress.”
• Yorktown really showed some positive signs in the second half, and they look like a team that can be a threat in Class A if they put it all together. But Polchinski stressed that they have to avoid the slow starts. “It seems – which we have to try to get out of – that we only come to play in the second half,” he said. “We did the same with Fox Lane, went down 3-0, and it’s very tough to come back against teams in Section 1 after you’re down 3-0, 4-0, whatever it might be. I can’t take anything away from Lakeland. They played a great game. They’re a very good, well-coached team, and my boys played well in the second half. We had our opportunities to tie up the score, and that’s all that you can ask.”
• Between Hamza, Spiniello and Reynolds, the Huskers have some very skilled scorers, which is more than we can probably say about most teams in the section. They put some nice runs together in the second half. “We’re creating opportunities,” Polchinski said. “They may not be putting the ball in the net sometimes, but the plays are there, so (the goals) will come sooner or later.”
• Denis is Lakeland’s go-to player, but their second-leading scorer from last season, senior Devin Flanagan suffered a hairline fracture in his fibula two weeks ago. The Hornets have still been putting up goals in bunches without him, but the hope is that Flanagan will be back in time for sectionals. “The doc said four-to-six (weeks), and I know the injury happened two weeks ago from today,” Hourahan said. “Best case scenario is the middle of October, but the kid has a college career ahead of him (at Stony Brook), so we’re not going to rush him back. It’s funny. We really thought he was doing a good job of being a leader and a senior captain, but he’s really taken it to the next level, and he’s not even playing. It’s nice to see. The kids still look up to him. He’s out at every practice, and obviously at every game. He’s still one of our leaders, and let me tell you something: If we do get him back for sectionals, it’s going to mean adding another All-Section player to the mix.”
Best of the rest: Mike Crawford scored the golden goal five minutes into overtime of Bronxville’s 5-4 win at Keio. Alston Tarry assisted on the goal and scored earlier in the game. … Vincenzo Galvano and Kevin Doorley each had a goal and an assist in Pearl River’s 3-1 win at Spring Valley. … Jonathan Kyriakidis and Greg Santora each scored in host Pleasantville’s 2-1 win over Putnam Valley. … Yeison Benegas scored twice in Mamaroneck’s 2-0 win over visiting Rye. … Beni La Rosa scored twice in New Rochelle’s 4-0 win vs. Scarsdale at Quaker Ridge School. … Tobbie Akinwunni and Melqui Valentin each scored for Beacon in a 2-1 win at Peekskill.
Here are all of the scores that we received from Saturday:
Pearl River 3, Spring Valley 1
Bronxville 5, Keio 4, OT
New Rochelle 4, Scarsdale 0
Lakeland 4, Yorktown 3
Mamaroneck 2, Rye 0
Pleasantville 2, Putnam Valley 1
Nanuet 1, Nyack 0
Beacon 2, Peekskill 1