In more than two decades of coaching, Southold coach Andrew Sadowski has experienced his share of heartbreaking games. There’s always the what-ifs. The games that came down to one play. The games that slipped away.
For the players, though, on this year’s First Settlers team, the Class C county champions, only one game might compare to the shell-shocked experience felt Wednesday night. That would be losing in last year’s regional finals on penalty kicks.
Since that moment, the First Settlers appeared destined to get back to that spot and earn a chance at redemption. But the script doesn’t always go according to plan.
Playing against the talented Solomon Schechter School of Westchester from Section I in the regional semifinals, the First Settlers surrendered a last-minute goal to break a scoreless game that allowed Schechter to emerge victorious 1-0 at Lakeland High School in Shrub Oak, N.Y.
“I feel for this team because last year was the same thing,” Sadowski said. “We couldn’t have asked them to do anything more but put one in.”
Schechter (11-4-2) advances into the regional finals Saturday against Webutuck of Section IX.
It took a spectacular performance from Schechter goalkeeper Noah Dunn to keep the game scoreless as the First Settlers gradually picked up the momentum in the second half. Dunn, a junior, made several quick, diving stops on shots that easily could have been goals.
It took only an instant for the game to appear like a Southold win and transform into a Schechter victory. Dunn made a diving stop on one end, allowing a quick transition for the Lions. Sophomore Miles Ogihara raced up the right side, and found himself one-on-one dribbling toward Southold’s goalkeeper. At just the right moment, Ogihara unleashed a low shot that snuck just inside the far post.
“History has taught him he’ll miss the first five or six of those and maybe bury the six and seven,” said Schechter coach Bryan Lamana. “I was kind of hoping with the clock stopped at two minutes that was the one he finally converted. I guess it was. He couldn’t have been more wide open.”
During the final two minutes, the time was kept on the field by the referees and the scoreboard displayed 2 minutes. So it was unclear exactly when Ogihara scored, but the First Settlers had less than a minute to fight for an equalizer.
As Ogihara was bearing down on the goal, Southold goalkeeper Dylan Clausen was left with few options.
“He came out and cut the angle on him,” Sadowski said. “The kid got lucky that it hit the inside of the post.”
It was the second straight heroic finish for Ogihara. He scored the team’s game-winning goal in the section final on Friday.
“It was a very similar situation,” Lamana said. “He just seems to be in the right place at the right time.”
The First Settlers were outplayed throughout the first half and registered only one shot. But the tide quickly began to turn in the second half as the First Settlers (14-3-1) began to mount more and more pressure against Dunn.
The Lions’ captain was up for the challenge each time.
Showing off tremendous quickness and reaction-time, he leapt and corralled a few golden chances for goals.
“Their goalkeeper was magnificent,” Sadowski said. “I never, ever expected him to let alone get to [balls] but catch them.”
It was the first time Southold has been held without a goal since Sept. 19 in a non-league game against Mount Sinai.
Lamana said Dunn has been “lights-out” all season.
“He’s been making saves like that all year,” he said. “It just seems that in this kind of setting and a game of this magnitude to make those saves is just unbelievable.”
One of his best saves came with 15 minutes remaining on a shot by senior Peter Fouchet. Dunn dove to his right to punch the ball free. It set up one of only two corner kicks for Southold in the game. The Lions had three corner kicks, all in the first half.
After winning three straight county championships, the First Settlers are still waiting to break through and advance into the state final four. The First Settlers got a bye into the regional finals last year after winning the county crown, but this year required an extra step. Last year the Section I winner had to play Section IX in the semifinals. This year the Section IX team received the bye.
“This is what we play for,” Sadowski said. “We play to get to this part of the season. With as well as we played this year, as well as we played that second half, it’s just …”
The First Settlers had plenty of support from the fans. A large contingent of students made the 2 1/2 hour trip on a school bus to cheer on their classmates.
As the season progressed and the First Settlers got closer to the postseason, the enthusiasm continued to grow among the students, Sadowski said.
“That’s a lot of fun,” he said. “It’s good to see the school spirit like that.”
Top Photo Caption: Southold sophomore Joe Berry looks on as Schechter players pile on during the celebration following their 1-0 win Wednesday in the Class C regional semifinals. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)