SUFFOLK COUNTY CLASS B SEMIFINAL | RED DEVILS 2, TUCKERS 0
In what turned into her final high school soccer game, Mattituck senior goalkeeper Val Hommel made sure she saved her best for last. In fact, that was something that could be said about her teammates as well.
Hommel made a dozen saves to keep the Tuckers in the game. But as brilliantly as she played, Hommel proved to be mortal and could not stop everything that Center Moriches sent her way in the Suffolk County Class B semifinal match Tuesday night.
The Tuckers and Hommel held off the hosts until the final four minutes in what turned into a 2-0 season-ending loss.
The win boosted Center Moriches (11-5) into Friday night’s county final against Babylon at St. Joseph’s College. Mattituck (9-5-2) will have to wait until next year, while its seniors will look toward life beyond high school.
Hommel, who hopes to attend The Citadel next fall and become a Marine Corps officer, did just about everything in her power to extend the Tuckers’ season.
“We came into the game knowing that it definitely wasn’t going to be an easy one,” she said. “We played our hearts out and that’s what really matters.”
The Tuckers’ work ethic certainly did not escape Mattituck coach Malynda Nicol. When Hommel wasn’t making saves, her teammates were blocking countless shots in the penalty area, flicking the ball out of bounds or out of harm’s way to slow down the Red Devils.
“They’re a phenomenal team,” Nicol said of Center Moriches. “They have speed, every single position. They are skilled at every single position. My girls never gave up. Unfortunately, they didn’t get the win. But to hold them to 1-0, [until the final seconds], to show that for a team that was pretty superb.
“If you’ve got to lose, there’s not a better way to go out, saying that you left your hearts on the field and you played your butts off. You’re outmatched and you still never gave up and you had heart and passion and that’s something that’s hard to coach and it’s great to see they have that.
“I’m supremely proud of them. I wish we won, but I’m supremely proud of them.”
Hommel, who played part of the season with a broken finger and a shifted knee, kept the Tuckers within striking distance, especially with four high-level saves in the opening 13 minutes, on Pam Schenck, Casey Luongo, Catherine Nolan and Claire Brady.
“Val played a heck of a game, one of her best games all year and, unfortunately, one got by her,” Nicol said. ”Center Moriches has speed all over the field. If you get beat, it’s hard to chase to get back. There was a man who ended up being open and the goal went in.”
Nicol was talking about Brady, the senior midfielder who finally solved Hommel with 3:55 remaining in the match. Brady, who had given the Tuckers headaches all game by spearheading the attack and creating some close encounters in front of the net, put home a Schenck pass from point-blank range.
The Tuckers had an opportunity to equalize on a free kick by junior midfielder Nikki Zurawski, who has struck for some long-distance goals this season, but her attempt was blocked with 30 seconds remaining. Center Moriches then broke down the field quickly. Luongo rounded Hommel and tapped the ball into an empty net with 18 seconds left.
“I was coming out and the ball was outside the box and I couldn’t use my hand,” Hommel said. “I went to go kick it and she just dropped inside and scored.”
Regardless of the final goal, Nichol said she was very satisfied that the team made some great strides.
“I am proud of them coming together, for fighting adversity, for the injuries that we had, for so many of them not having a club team that they played together,” she said. “For some of them this was the first year they played together. What we did from the end of August until now makes me proud, makes me smile. It makes me happy that I’m their coach. And we’re looking forward to getting Center next year.”