Halfway through the first quarter Saturday, West Islip's Paul Riportella appeared to have Ward Melville goalie Ryan Simpson beaten, but his shot hit the pipe. He remained scoreless for the game and goal-less for the season . . . until the fourth quarter. Then Riportella, a senior midfielder, turned on the faucet.
Riportella won five straight faceoffs in the fourth quarter, four of them leading directly to goals, scored his first goal of the season and added two assists as West Islip scored seven straight goals, six in the final period, to defeat rival Ward Melville, 8-5.
"I didn't even realize he scored that much," West Islip coach Scott Craig said. "The biggest key to the comeback, the turning point of the game, was when he started winning those faceoffs. And not just winning the draw, but picking up the ground balls."
Riportella, who shares faceoff duties with Jon Reese, won the opening draw of the fourth quarter, with the Lions trailing 5-2 and looking flat offensively. It was a prelude to a deluge. West Islip (11-1, 10-0 in Division I), the Suffolk Class A champion for the last eight years, went from flat to razor sharp.
After winning the faceoff, Riportella broke for the net, took a feed from Anthony DeLuca and fired home a low rocket from the top of the slot. Before the cheers from a spirited crowd of about 1,800 that included several hundred Ward Melville fans died down, Riportella was at it again. He won the ensuing draw, fed Tom Moore, who beat Simpson and drew a penalty.
Seconds later, Brendan Smith capitalized on the extra-man opportunity with an unassisted blast from the left side to tie it at 5. The three goals in 39 seconds had the crowd and the West Islip sideline rocking.
The Lions kept rolling. Two more faceoff wins by Riportella produced a tiebreaking goal by Moore, his third of the game, unassisted after a dodge in the high slot, and a slick fast-break goal by Mike Moynihan with 7:19 left on a feed from Riportella.
"Once we start controlling faceoffs, we're hard to beat," Riportella said. "I use the same move every time -- the jump. I just got into a rhythm."
And gave Ward Melville the blues. "He had the hot hand," Craig said. "He was doing so well [on faceoffs], I left him in."
Those two goals, in nine seconds, seemed to break the spirit of the Patriots (10-2, 8-2), who controlled most of the first three quarters with a clock-killing offense and some excellent first-half saves by Simpson.
The Lions got the chance to stage their comeback because goalie Jack Kelly was brilliant early. "He kept us in the game," Craig said. "He left the door open for us."
Kelly, who made 11 saves, then slammed the door on Ward Melville, which got three goals from John Edmonds.
"They got good shots in the first half," Kelly said. "Then our defense pushed them out to the edge in the second half and they didn't get quality shots."
But the Lions did, thanks mainly to Riportella's faceoff frenzy. "Paulie played the game of his life," midfielder Anthony Santo said.