As they slowly walked off the field at Islip High School Friday night, there was not a dry eye among the Mattituck Tuckers.
The girls soccer team just played the game of its lives, going toe to toe with undefeated Babylon in the Suffolk County Class B championship game before enduring an excruciating 2-1 overtime loss.
The defeat ended the Tuckers’ season.
“It definitely broke our hearts losing after putting so much into it,” said midfielder Claire Gatz, who scored Mattituck’s goal. “We really worked hard. I don’t think it was our best game as a unit, but we put our heart into it. And that definitely hurts. They played a great game and unfortunately, they didn’t get the win tonight.”
Goalkeeper Sarah Santacroce was just as upset and proud of her team.
“I don’t think we could have played any harder,” she said. “We gave it our all and I couldn’t ask for better teammates than I have back there on the field. They’re my best friends.
“We wanted it so bad. That’s all it was. We wanted it so bad. We just dug down and just found it because they beat us twice. We just wanted to bring it back, take it home with us.”
But it wasn’t meant to be as Sophie Ryan put in a Tegan Castellucio pass from the left side with 6 minutes and 35 seconds remaining in the second overtime for Babylon (17-0).
“Their goal came on a broken play, a broken defensive play,” Mattituck coach Stephen Lirosi said. “That’s just what happens.”
You never would have guessed the Tuckers (13-5) were coming off a shootout win against Center Moriches on Wednesday, a game in which they played 110 minutes of marathon soccer.
“They always had it, the drive, wanting to win, wanting to compete and do well is there with these girls,” Lirosi said. “You definitely saw it with Center Moriches, you definitely saw it today. That is something they had the entire time. I’m not surprised by that whatsoever.”
The Panthers came out as though they were going to score three goals in the opening five minutes, applying a tremendous amount of pressure on the Mattituck defense.
Between goalkeeper Santacroce’s saves and the back four’s timely clearances, the Tuckers held their foes at bay.
“Sarah lives up to the big moments,” Lirosi said. “So when it’s time to shine, she’ll definitely do it. She plays to full capacity, whether it’s this game right that we played or if whether it’s a regular-season game, she’s always playing as hard as she can.”
One of Mattituck’s strategies was to absorb the Panthers’ pressure and hit them quickly on the counterattack.
That worked to perfection in the first half when freshman Nikki Searles motored down the right wing into the corner and crossed the ball into the middle to Gatz, who slotted it home past keeper Grace Malley for her 15th goal this season with 28:14 left.
The lead, however, lasted all of 41 seconds as Babylon equalized as Sam Giovinazzo scored during a scramble in the penalty area with 27:33 remaining to negate the Tuckers’ momentum.
Photo caption: Mattituck goalkeeper Sarah Santacroce making a save against Babylon. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)