Last Thursday at Dowling College, for the first time in the 35-year history of boys soccer here, East Hampton High’s team won a county championship, stunning Sayville, the defending Class A state and county titlist, by a score of 2-1.
Sayville, the taller team, anchored by its dangerous All-American defender, the 6-foot-2-inch Dakota Edwards, tended to play the ball in the air, making the most of its height advantage, while East Hampton, in contrast, stayed closer to the ground and wove numerous players into the act with its short passing game, advancing the ball relentlessly.
One such combination, about six and a half minutes into the game, began with a throw-in by Denis Espana in Sayville’s territory — an offensive that involved Mario Olaya, Milton Farez, J.C. Barrientos, and Angel Garces. It wound up with Garces unleashing a hard low shot from the right side toward the left post that forced the Golden Flashes’ 6-foot-5 goalkeeper, Rich Geiger, to stretch full out to make the save, after which Farez, who had positioned himself well, deftly tapped in the rebound.
The electrifying early goal ignited a Bonac celebration and shocked Sayville and its fans.
“That’s what we wanted to do,” Rich King, East Hampton’s head coach, said afterward. “We knew if we scored first, it would send a message that we were for real and that we were capable of giving them everything they could handle.”
The state/county champs, who seemed to find more favor with the referees that evening, especially when it came to contested 50-50 balls, were to give the Bonackers and their goalie, Esteban Aguilar, who frequently came under free and corner-kick fire during the 80-minute battle, plenty to handle as well.
After Aguilar saved a shot taken from the top of the box by a Sayville striker, Robert Hammerle, in the 12th minute, Nick West, one of two precocious freshmen on East Hampton’s team (the other being Esteban Valverde), followed suit, almost making it 2-0 as a one-touch shot of his just missed the upper corner.
Valverde figured prominently not long after. In leading a counter attack that followed a foiled Sayville corner kick in the 24th minute, he was pushed from behind by Joe DeBonis, a Sayville defender, as he neared the penalty box and was about to challenge Geiger one-on-one.
“That should have been a red card,” said King. “Their last defender intentionally fouled our attacker — it’s in the rule book — yet the kid didn’t even get a yellow card. . . . We were not happy with the way the game was called, especially considering that it was a game of such magnitude. But our kids did a good job of keeping their composure. They didn’t let the officiating affect them.”
At the half, East Hampton was still holding on to its 1-0 lead, “but we knew,” said King, “that they’d come at us with everything they had in the second period.”
With the University of Maryland-bound Edwards having moved well up into the offensive end so he could further concentrate his considerable firepower, Sayville, especially when it came to free kicks and corner kicks, continued to put a lot of pressure on Aguilar. Yet Bonac’s keeper continued to hold the Golden Flashes at bay — until, in the 75th minute, they tied it up, cashing in on a free kick taken from about 25 yards out.
“It was a questionable foul, called on Jerges [Alban, East Hampton’s sweeper] — there wasn’t a lot of contact,” King said.
Cory Santangelo, who took the kick, lofted it toward a crowd at the far post. “Esteban went up, the ball was in his hands, but he was bumped and it fell out,” King said. “There were 10 players inside the six-yard box, it was like a pinball machine. A defender cleared the ball off the line, but it hit a Sayville player, and their number 10 [Matt Leshinger, a midfielder] put it in from one yard out.”
It was Sayville’s players and fans’ turn to cry out then.
It seemed, with five minutes left to play, that the game would go into overtime.
But, with a half minute remaining, Farez, whose back was to the goal, gathered in a throw-in from West, wheeled toward the middle of the field, and after beating two defenders laid a ground-hugging pass into the penalty box onto the feet of Olaya, who had been rushing forward. With his left foot, Olaya directed a low shot toward the right post that Geiger, who was not quick enough in bending down, let slip from his gloved hands into the nets.
With that, Bonac’s players on the field, the coaches, the players on the bench, and the fans in the stands and along the sidelines made a mighty noise.
During the celebration, Olaya took off his shirt, which resulted in his banishment to the bench while his teammates successfully ate up the clock.
As the last second ticked off, he and his peers and the Bonac faithful were again in full cry, celebrating East Hampton’s first boys soccer county championship since the program began [under Jim Nicoletti] in 1976.
“Everyone went wild again,” related King, “and our team crossed the field to enjoy the moment with their fans. Four or five of them took their jerseys off, one of them being Mario, but it wasn’t against the rules . . . the game was over and there was no taunting or unsportsmanlike conduct.”
“But the referees singled out Mario — he didn’t rip his shirt off, he kind of took it off. He was nowhere near Sayville’s bench. No other yellow cards were issued. [The effective red-carding of Olaya, which prevented him from playing in Sunday’s Long Island championship game] was absolutely unfair, an absolute injustice.”
“These were 16 and 17-year-olds who had given it their all, who had played with emotion, and who were joyous,” King continued. “They weren’t rubbing it in — they were celebrating with their fans! The referees robbed them of their moment. That card should not have been issued. It was a disservice to Mario and to the 25 other players who had worked so hard. It was a disservice to Suffolk County soccer. There were four or five different ways it could have been handled. I’ve since talked to 15 to 20 soccer coaches and they all said that it was a travesty. Including the Jericho coach, who, if you read the Newsday account, said, he would have rather we’d been able to play with Mario.”
A protest had immediately been lodged with Section XI, King said, “but Section XI said it wouldn’t reverse the call, so we had to live with it. . . . Don [McGovern, King’s assistant] and I are going to write the county’s soccer officials though. We don’t want this to happen to any kid in Suffolk County soccer ever. These were kids who in their innocence were celebrating a moment they’ll never forget, a moment that they had earned. . . . It’s almost criminal.”