Mattituck senior midfielder-striker Axel Rodriguez has been on both sides of 6-0 results in the boys soccer postseason during his high school career. This one definitely left a sour taste in his mouth.
As a freshman in 2014, Rodriguez scored a goal in a 6-0 triumph in the New York State Class B semifinals. A day later, the Tuckers secured their third state championship.
On Saturday, Rodriguez and the Tuckers suffered a 6-0 defeat to a juggernaut Center Moriches team in the Suffolk County Class B championship game at Islip High School.
“It was a different feeling, one was one of the greatest feelings,” Rodriguez said of the 2014 win. “We [eliminated] this team out of the playoffs and the next day we went there and won the states. Now, it’s different. We lost six-nil and we are out of the playoffs. There is no other practice, there is no other game tomorrow. Two different feelings.
“It’s hard to lose six-nil in the championship. It shouldn’t be that way. They deserved it. They wanted it more than we do.”
The Red Devils (17-0) have run roughshod over all comers this season, including Class A and AA teams. They won the League VII crown with ease, outscoring their foes, 80-9. They moved the ball quickly, smoothly, smartly and with efficiency.
“You’ve got to tip your hat to a good team when you play one and they’re excellent,” Mattituck coach Will Hayes said. “The shoe has been on the other foot before. It will be on the other foot again. But right now it’s their moment. They have a tremendous team, quality players. They’re going to go far. They’re going to go far as they keep scoring goals.”
With the incomparable Ben Hamilton (county-best 36 goals, plus 17 assists) leading the way with two goals, Center Moriches rolled to a 5-0 halftime advantage.
“Center’s a very, very, very skilled team. Honestly, one of the best I’ve played so far in my high school career,” junior goalkeeper James Jacobs said.
Added senior defender Justin Lake: “They have a quality team. We tried our best at practice, bouncing around with different formations and different looks. They’re a quality team. There’s really nothing we could have done. We did our best. That’s really all you can put out there.”
Mattituck kept Center Moriches off the scoreboard for the opening 12 minutes before Hamilton put in a rebound of an Eric Amaya shot that Jacobs saved with 27:48 remaining in the half.
“I think [we] give up too easily,” Rodriguez said. “We didn’t know how to come back from the first goal. I think we just gave up.”
The Tuckers never recovered. Liam Pulsipher tallied from close range with 24:04 left in the first half to double the lead before Michael Luongo made it 3-0, connecting from the right side of the penalty area.
“Three-nil, game over,” Hayes said. “For the first 20 minutes, we actually played very well. I was very happy with the shape, the organization. It was exactly how we trained. It was exactly what we wanted to do and exactly how I feel a team would be successful against Center Moriches. Our players started to fatigue, chasing them and staying organized against that kind of ball movement.”
Amaya and Hamilton added first-half goals and John DeBatto closed out the scoring in the second half.
While the result was far from what the Tuckers (6-12) had wanted, just reaching the final was a major accomplishment in a season in which they finished below .500 for the first time in 81 years. They won four of their last five matches, including a 1-0 semifinal victory over Babylon.
“Being a three-year starter, this has been a goal of mine to get to the county final,” Lake said. “Getting this far was something we strived to. The beginning of the season was rough. We worked out the kinks, [went through] formations and found something that worked for us. Peaking right before playoffs definitely was the right thing to get us where we are now.”
Jacobs promised a new and improved version of the Tuckers will return in 2018.
“Next year, we’re going to come back,” he said. “We’re definitely going to show them who Mattituck really is.”
Photo caption: Mattituck’s Jason Scalia heading a shot toward the Center Moriches goal. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)