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Williamsville East falls in state hockey final

UTICA – Winning a championship not only is a great way for a senior to go out, but it helps alleviate the sting associated with the realization that one’s high school career has come to an end.

Falling short of the dream hurts, big time. Williamsville East’s hockey players are proof of that.

The Flames failed to protect an early two-goal lead and dropped a 5-2 decision to Skaneateles on Sunday at Utica Memorial Auditorium. State tournament MVP Ray Falso led the winners with two goals and an assist as the Lakers won their third state title and first since sharing the crown with Section X Salmon River back in 1989.

“They worked harder than us and the end result shows it,” said senior Dylan Cicero, who gave the Flames a 2-0 lead just 2 minutes, 30 seconds into the second period. “We let go of the gas pedal and they took it to us and that’s how it resulted. We shouldn’t have let go.”

“We came out hard, they came out harder,” senior Matt Steffan said. “They were just the better team today. We have to accept that.”

That’s easier for the 11 seniors on the Flames to accept than the fact the ride is over. Quite a few seniors were in uniform long after the postgame ceremony simply because they didn’t want to take the jersey off – signaling the end of their scholastic careers.

“We’re more upset that we can never put this jersey on again than” we are that “we lost,” said Steffan. “It’s just unfortunate we won’t ever be able to play a game for Williamsville East again.”

The seniors seemed poise to go out with a bang. The Flames opened the scoring in the final minute of the first period when senior Alex Binfield knocked in a rebound during a goalmouth scramble. They struck again early in the second period when Cicero tipped in Justyn Segerra’s shot,

But the Lakers, who earned a wild-card berth into the state tournament, seized control from that point. Williamsville4 East had a 9-6 shot advantage after one period, but Skaneateles outshot the Flames, 22-11, the rest of the way.

The Lakers had a 16-4 edge in shots during the second period and three times beat senior goalie Max Battistoni, who earned first-team all-state honors. Falso scored his first at 4:12 on a deflection. The Lakers tied it 1:53 later on Reggie Buell’s power-play goal. Falso scored what proved to be the winner three minutes later.

Falso earned his third point of the night on Skaneateles’ fourth goal, which came 4:35 into the third period as he found a lonely Matt Benson at the left circle with a cross-ice pass. Benson calmly shot against the grain, picking the corner on Battastoni (23 saves).

The Flames mustered little offense until late in the game, when they generated a couple chances. First-team all-state forward Mike Steffan fired a knuckleball off the post with under two minutes left. Patrick Major’s empty-net goal with 56 seconds left sealed Williamsville East’s fate.

The Flames (22-3-0-1) may have fallen short of winning their first state title since 2004, but they still had one of their best seasons ever.

There are a lot of people who would have really liked to have been in this game,” Flames coach Mike Torrillo said. “These kids gave it their all from Nov. 1 on.”

“The ride was unbelievable,” Cicero said. “This was our game plan to always make it to Utica. We achieved it.”