Central boys beat Gratz to win Public League lacrosse crown

Central's Ade Owodunni (left) and Alex Koukaras celebrate after winning the boys' lacrosse Public League championship at Ben Johnson Stadium. ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer

Central coach Steve Innamarato was all smiles on Friday as he stepped near midfield for the postgame interview. Behind him, his victorious Lancers posed for pictures after the Public League lacrosse championship at the Ben Johnston supersite.

Innamarato, who started the program just three years earlier, removed his crimson cap with gold letters and revealed his soon-to-be-shorn dark brown hair, speckled ever so slightly with silver.

"This is the last time you'll see this for a while," he joked.

That's because his Lancers held up their end of an early-season bet, winning the Public League title, 17-10, against a feisty Simon Gratz squad.

Early this season, junior faceoff-man Chris Lopez-Leiva asked Innamarato if he would shave his head if Central won the championship.

"I'm just numb right now," Innamarato said. "This has been three years of building a team from scratch with many players who had never played before. And to do this in three years is mind blowing. I feel like I'm dreaming right now."

The ice bucket dumped on his head minutes later likely woke him up on a stifling day that reached 92 degrees just before game time.

The Lancers (13-2) leaped ahead quickly, notching the game's first three goals.

Junior midfielder Soosung Whang netted two of his game-high five goals in the first three minutes of play. Goaltender Basel Heiba (12 saves) was also tremendous for Central.

Whang, who missed much of the season with a broken hand, had recently returned to play the final three games of the season.

"Honestly I was really scared" he wouldn't get back in time, said Whang, who also plays defensive back, receiver and punter on the football team. "They really wanted me back, and I really wanted to step on the field so badly. I'm just happy I'm back now, and happy it's better."

Whang was also part of the game's most impressive play. Fellow junior Phil Vasserman sprinted with the ball near midfield and barreled through a defender who tried to make a bit hit.

Vasserman, who finished with four goals, then charged downfield with room to fire but instead found Whang on the left side.

"That was the chemistry right there," said Whang, who also played with Vasserman in middle school. "I knew it was coming. I saw him look at me real quick. I turned around, he threw it over, and I just shot it right away."

Perhaps the most important goal, however, was scored by defensive long-pole Vinny Santos as Gratz made a second-half surge.

The Bulldogs, in their first year under coach Collin Meadow, acquitted themselves well throughout with tenacity and teamwork.

Back-to-back goals by Jhamir Glenn got Gratz to within 10-7 with 10 minutes, 30 seconds left in the third quarter after the Bulldogs trailed, 10-5, at halftime. Adam Williams led Gratz with four goals.

Santos, however, responded with a rocket from about 20 yards out nearly two minutes later.

The Lancers then went on to score six of the game's next seven goals. Kevin Chan and Anton Tamkovitch also finished with three goals apiece for the Lancers.

Central will next play the Catholic League champion, which has yet to be determined.

"This is really everything for us," Whang said. "We really worked for this all season. We were talking about it [all of the time]. This is where we wanted to get. We achieved our goals, and we just have to take it a step further in states."

Central 6 4 3 4 - 17

Gratz 3 2 3 2 - 10

C: Soosung Whang 5, Phil Vasserman 4, Anton Tamkovitch 3, Kevin Chan 3, Daniel Martinez-Sallee, Vinny Santos.

G: Adam Williams 4, Jhamir Glenn 2, Tylil Spencer 2, Changel Bowie, Devon Johnson.

Saves: C-Basel Heiba 12; G-Zahir Pierce 8.