It was a case of deja vu for the East Hampton boys soccer team in the Long Island Class A Championship game at Dowling College in Shirley on November 13.
For the second straight year, the Bonackers saw their dreams of a berth in the state tournament cut short at the hands of Nassau County champ Jericho High School, losing 2-0 to the Jayhawks this time around. Last year, the Bonackers were downed, 2-1, by Jericho, which went on to win the state championship. The Jayhawks repeated as state champs this year, beating Port Chester, 2-1, in the state final over the weekend.
In the Long Island title game, Jericho opened the scoring with 27:32 left in the first half, when senior Harrison Reiber put one past Nick West for a 1-0 advantage. The Jayhawks added another goal right before halftime when senior Brian Lowenstein found the net with just 1:10 left before the break.
The Bonackers played on their heels for a good part of the first half, but got into a better rhythm as the game progressed and had some good chances in the second half. With just under 15 minutes left to play, it looked like there was a handball in the box by Jericho that wasn’t called by the referees. East Hampton had several corner plays as well, but couldn’t get one past Jericho senior goalie Ari Lewis, who recorded his 15th shutout of the season. Heading into the state tournament, Jericho had only allowed five goals to its opponents all year. The Jayhawks finished with a 20-1-1 record, while East Hampton finished the season with a 13-4-3 mark.
While it was disappointing to fall short against the same team two years in a row, East Hampton head coach Rich King had nothing but positive things to say after the game—both about his own team and his opponent that day.
“They’re a great high school soccer team,” King said of Jericho. “They’re defending state champs and returned pretty much all of their kids from that team.
“I’m proud of my guys,” he continued. “We played much better in the second half. We showed resiliency and great effort to get back into the game. We could have hung our heads after they scored that goal right before the half, but we didn’t mail it in.”
When asked what makes Jericho such a tough squad to compete against, King said the Jayhawks are a complete package.
“They have depth and experience,” he said. “They have 14 or 15 seniors, and they just keep subbing kids in and don’t have a drop off. They had a taste of winning a state championship last year, so they want it again.
“I didn’t think they did anything difficult in particular,” King added. “They’re just a defense-oriented team that has only allowed a handful of goals all year.”
The good news for King and the Bonackers is that the future is bright, and looks to stay that way for awhile. East Hampton will lose a few key seniors, most notably midfielder J.C. Barrientos, one of the team’s top players this year who was a playmaker in the middle and was important all over the field. East Hampton will also graduate defender Christian Calle, midfielder Bryan Ordonez and defender Alex Serna. But starting goalie Nick Tulp is only a sophomore, while two of the team’s top players on attack/midfield—Nick West and Esteban Valverde—are also only sophomores. West scored both of his team’s goals in the Suffolk County championship win over Elwood/John Glenn and also led his team to victory with two goals in a come-from-behind semifinal win over Eastport South Manor. Junior Donte Donegal, another one of East Hampton’s top scorers, will also be back, along with captain and defensive anchor Denis Espana. With so many key players returning, King said the expectations will remain high again next year. Jericho, by comparison, will graduate 15 seniors from its lineup.
“We want to get back here and win it,” he said. “Our goal is to win a state championship, and it’s going to happen one of these years. Two years ago, I said to the team that this group coming up is going to win a county championship, and now our goal is a state title. And that will always be the goal as long as myself and [assistant coach] Don McGovern are here. And it’s not just our goal, it’s a program goal; every kid on the team knows that that’s the goal.”
When asked to assess the season as a whole, King said he was proud of his team’s ability to dig deep in close games.
“We always found a way to win,” he said, pointing out that the Bonackers were victorious in 10 one-goal games throughout the year. “They gave everything they had all season long.”