Before its final two regular season games last week, the Eastport South Manor girls soccer team was on a three-game unbeaten streak, with its last loss on October 12 to Kings Park. But the Lady Sharks lost their final two regular season games, 1-0 at home to Bellport on October 25, and a 2-1 defeat at Islip on Thursday, October 27—and head coach Nicole Massari thought those two losses carried into Friday’s Suffolk County Class AA opening round playoff game at Sachem East.
Though ESM played well for a large chunk of the game, two defensive lapses late in the game cost the Lady Sharks—as Sachem East posted two goals in the game’s final 15 minutes—the final blow occurring with less than 30 seconds remaining, to pull out the 2-1 victory to end ESM’s season.
Even though Massari told her team to forget about their previous losses on the bus ride to Sachem East, she still felt it played a part in the loss. She also said that had those two losses been wins, maybe her team would have been seeded higher and played a weaker opponent. “We were on a roll for a long time and we regressed to when we started the season,” she said of her team’s two losses.
On Friday, “we had great warm-ups, came out strong,” she said. “Normally, we’re a second-half team and we played well the second half, we just had the two breakdowns and that’s all it takes.”
ESM took a 1-0 lead with just 1:34 remaining in the first half. An ESM free kick, about 30 yards out, came into the box and rattled around a bit before senior Lady Shark Shelby Gilman found the ball and kicked it over the Sachem East goal keeper’s head in the top left corner from the opposite side of the goal.
Massari was happy with her team’s lead at the half, but knew from playing in a tough League V that a 1-0 lead is never safe. “Sachem was a tough team, they were ranked 13th for a reason, and they’re a good solid program,” she said. “We knew that we couldn’t go out and just let down.”
Early on in the second half, ESM had a prime chance to take a commanding two-goal lead. Junior Hope Boullianne and freshman Nijay Brown were on a two-on-one, with Boullianne controlling the ball on the left side. Both Boullianne and Brown converged into the box, Boullianne waited until the last possible moment to give the feed to Brown, who scorched the ball, but it went off the crossbar.
From that point on, it seemed momentum started to switch in Sachem’s favor and the Lady Flaming Arrows tied things up in the 15th minute. Off a corner kick, ESM senior goal keeper Briana Hayes came out to try and punch the ball out. She did, but Sachem East’s Kayla Gansrow corralled the rebound and shot it in the net to tie the game.
With time winding down in regulation, Sachem cleared the ball into ESM’s end. ESM senior Dene DiMartino tried to clear the ball, but it went off a Sachem player’s face. Another Sachem player then grabbed the ball and took a shot, which Hayes made a nice diving save on but gave up a rebound, which Sachem’s Laurie Semetsis used to score the eventual game-winner with 26.9 seconds left.
ESM finished the regular season 5-5-2 in League V, 5-8-2 overall, and made the playoffs for the first time in five years. While to some it may have been a good season, Massari said reaching the playoffs was just one of many goals the team wanted to accomplish this season.
“We’re happy we reached a goal of ours, but it’s bittersweet,” she said. “We would have liked to go further. And, obviously, it’s bittersweet for our seniors, they’re going to be truly missed.”
Following the game, an emotional Massari spoke about the seniors leaving the team and how much they meant to the program. DiMartino, Hayes, Gilman, Kelly Blank, Erin Gomez, Stephanie Gratto and Brittany Lundy will all be graduating in June.
“These seniors are a great group,” she said. “They played together for 10, 12 years, not just soccer but in basketball, lacrosse, they play everything together. They’re true athletes and great kids. To lose like that after having a lead … it’s just so tough on them and they wanted this. Sometimes the chips don’t fall, doesn’t work out in our favor.”