CLASS C COUNTY FINALS | PANTHERS 3, CLIPPERS 0
Shelby Kostal sat on the floor next to the end of the bleachers in the corner of the Babylon High School gym, the emotion of the moment hitting harder than all the balls she’s smacked over the net during her varsity career with Greenport/Southold.
The Clippers made great strides this season, finishing one game behind Shelter Island for the League VIII title while losing only one match all season before Saturday.
And suddenly it was all over.
A dominant performance from top-seeded Babylon ended the Clippers’ season Saturday afternoon and with it, the varsity career for Kostal and four other seniors.
The Panthers swept the match in three games, 25-6, 25-16, 25-16, to claim the Class C county championship.
As the match ended Kostal’s teammates consoled her. As for her mother and longtime coach, Susan Kostal was at a loss for words.
“If I even start to talk, I’m going to start crying,” Susan said.
The second-seeded Clippers (12-2) made it into Saturday’s final after a 3-1 victory a day earlier over No. 3 Port Jefferson. The Royals were the same team Greenport played in its last regular season game, a match the Clippers came back from 2-0 down to win.
Babylon, a League VII team, proved to be the best of the best in Class C. Against the Clippers they excelled in all facets of the game from the serve to their defense.
“It was tough,” Susan Kostal said. “Babylon came out hard, they knew exactly what they wanted to do and they did it. They executed well. [The Panthers] will probably go to states.”
Babylon (15-2) will play in the Long Island championship Tuesday for a chance to advance to the state tournament in Glens Falls next weekend.
The Panthers set the tone right away against the Clippers by racing out to a 9-0 lead behind the serve of senior Lizzy Tighe. The Clippers couldn’t get anything going in the first game, which seemed like a blur as it wrapped up so quickly.
The Clippers regrouped for a better effort in the next two games, but Babylon always put a run together to separate itself from Greenport.
“I think we didn’t play as hard as we should have played today,” Susan Kostal said. “It’s a shame. We didn’t play well.”
The Clippers hung with Babylon in Game 2 early on. Sophomore Irene Raptopoulos delivered an ace that trimmed the Clippers’ deficit to 16-15. The Clippers got the next point with a tip-in to tie the game at 16.
But after Mary Tighe answered with a hard hit for a kill to give the lead back to the Panthers, Babylon never looked back. The Panthers scored the next eight points behind Brianna Goodfellow’s serve to close out the game and take a commanding 2-0 lead.
Asked when the last time Babylon won a county title, Panthers’ coach Patrick Donaldson looked up toward the banners hanging inside the gym, searching for an answer.
“It’s been a long time,” he said. “I don’t even know if they’ve won the county. The last banner we saw was in the ’80s, but they won the leagues.”
It took the addition of a freshman for Babylon’s team to take the next step from good to champions.
Margot Zamet, a tall, hard-hitting middle, made life difficult for the Clippers all match. She was a force at the front of the net.
“She was that extra notch that we really needed,” Donaldson said. “That made us always have somebody up at the front.”
The addition of Zamet meant the Panthers had another hitter to throw at teams to go along with Mary Tighe when she would rotate into the back row.
Last year the Panthers, who have been a Class B team in most recent years, lost in the first round to Center Moriches.
“We knew this year we had some good players and people had some experience after a tough first-round playoff loss last year,” Donaldson said.
For Greenport, Saturday’s match was the final time Susan Kostal would be coaching her daughter as a Clipper.
“I think it’s going to be more relief for both of us,” she said. “It’s been a long, long time. She’s moving on.”
And so to are the Panthers, one step away from Glens Falls.