Each of the Prelims Were Battle Royals

Nick West was Johnny-on-the-spot on Saturday
Esteban Valverde and his Bonac teammates have been playing hard and very well in the postseason. Craig Macnaughton

   To return to the Suffolk County Class A boys soccer final, East Hampton High’s team underwent two severe tests, battle royals with Miller Place, in the first round here Friday, a game that East Hampton won 1-0, and with Eastport-South Manor, in the semis here Saturday, a game the Bonackers came from behind to win 3-2.
    The Panthers and the Sharks were tall, bruising teams, but the Bonackers, who have been well coached by Rich King and Don McGovern, are just as tenacious in contesting 50-50 balls as they are skilled in ball-handling and passing.
    Monday’s championship game with Elwood-John Glenn at Dowling College marked the third time in the past four years that East Hampton, the defending champion, has played in a county final. East Hampton has also been the league champion in three of the past four years.
    Nick Tulp, the sophomore goalie, made four great saves in the first half of Friday’s game to keep East Hampton, which has characteristically played stronger second halves this season, in contention. A free kick just before the horn sounded by sophomore midfielder Nick West (about whom more later) from 20 yards out, which was saved by Miller Place’s goalie, proved to be East Hampton’s best chance in the opening period.
    Going with the wind, and with the sun to their backs, the Bonackers picked up the pace in the second frame, though Tulp remained active.
    In the 48th minute, Donte Donegal headed a corner kick just wide of the right post. In the 53rd, the Panthers’ keeper came out to swat away another corner kick by West, and, in the 57th minute, Donegal just missed getting to two successive passes across the goal mouth from Esteban Valverde.
    A hard ground-hugging shot by J.C. Barrientos zipped just wide left in the 56th minute, and, in the 68th, an acutely-angled rocket by Donegal was parried at the near post. Donegal put another one off the near post in the 76th — with four minutes remaining in regulation — and then, in the 78th minute, East Hampton’s relentless attackers finally got on the board, the result of a short pass from Barrientos to Bryan Ordonez, his fellow midfielder, who, rather than pull the trigger, lifted a soft shot high into the left corner of Miller Place’s nets. It was, Ordonez said amid the exulting afterward, his first goal of the season. It couldn’t have come at a better time.
    There was still a minute and a half to play. Miller Place’s coach brought everybody up, including the goalie, who stood near the midfield mark, though long clears by Barrientos and Nick Quiroz ran the clock out.
    Ordonez, a senior, sat on the bench for the first half of the season, but has stepped up his play as the fall has gone along, as has also been the case with a number of others, including Quiroz, Jonathan Chunchi, Christian Calle, and Juan Patino. There are only four seniors on this team: Barrientos, Calle, Ordonez, and Alex Serna.
    On Saturday, East Hampton was matched against Eastport-South Manor, on whose roster are 12 seniors. It was more of the same, only more so. The senior-heavy, third-seeded Sharks were well organized, moving onto the ball in threatening fashion whenever they could, and they were definitely motivated, having come off a double-overtime 2-1 win the day before over Shoreham-Wading River.
    East Hampton scored first, however, as, in the 36th minute, Serna, one of three staunch Bonac defenders (Denis Espana and Alvaro Aguilar being the others) alertly headed in the rebound of West’s free kick from the 20 that had bounced down from the crossbar and up into the air.
    Eastport-South Manor came on strong in the second half. “Their seniors were facing the possibility that it might be the last 40 minutes of soccer they were to play for the school,” King said afterward by way of explanation.
    Espana, fronting Tulp, made a sliding save of what would have otherwise been a goal four minutes into the second half, but lightning struck in the form of two Eastport headers resulting from long throw-ins in the 47th and 49th minutes. Cody Kull, a senior defender, set up both scores, the first by Matthew Hayes, the second by Daniel Cheeseman, by lofting the ball from 20 to 30 yards out into the goal mouth.
    Those goals fired up the visitors and their fans, and set the Bonackers back on their heels for moment — but for just a moment. Soon they were back to battling. In the 53rd minute, Michael Flynn tripped Donegal at the 35, presenting West with a free kick, which sailed just wide to the left of the left post. Tulp came up with a big save a minute later, following a free kick awarded Eastport-South Manor, Cheeseman sailing by him into the nets as he gathered the ball in.
    Tulp came up big again in the 61st minute, punching a shot off the right post. In the 63rd minute, a hands call on an Eastport defender amid a feeding frenzy in the penalty box presented East Hampton with a chance to tie the score, and West, who took the shot, was not found wanting, easily putting a ground-hugger by the visitors’ keeper, Ryan Flaherty, into the left corner.
    Barrientos had to come off in the 68th minute, following a collision near Eastport’s goal, but, to everyone’s relief, re-entered the game six minutes later, just before the winning play, which began with Serna’s chip up the right side to Donegal, whose subsequent cross West, who had just been switched by his coaches from the right to the left side of the field, neatly buried.
    The Bonackers held the hard-charging visitors off in the final minutes for the heady and hard-won win. Afterward, King said, “Our backs were against the wall, but we responded resiliently, with heart and intensity. For a young team to do that . . . it was a solid group effort. I’m so proud of them. Though we’re not done yet. We want to win the county, Long Island, and state championships.”