CLASS B STATE SEMIFINALS | BULLDOGS 3, TUCKERS 1
With each ball pegged off a post or crossbar, each shot that sailed just wide of the net, the tension mounted for the Mattituck boys soccer team. The Tuckers needed only 38 seconds to score their first goal against Livonia Saturday afternoon in the Class B state semifinals for what looked like would be the first of many.
The Tuckers dominated possession, peppering the Bulldogs’ goalkeeper with shots as they tried to expand their lead.
But after senior David Burkhardt’s goal in the 1st minute, somehow, the ball never found its way into the back of the net again.
The Bulldogs, in their first appearance in the state championship final four, capitalized on the few chances they had to send the Tuckers to a heartbreaking 3-1 loss at Middletown High School.
“The better team’s going home,” said Mattituck coach Mat Litchhult.
Livonia will play in the Class B state championship at 3 p.m. Sunday against either Ichabod Crane or Susquehanna Valley, which were set to face off after Mattituck’s game.
“It certainly wasn’t a 3-1 game by any stretch of the imagination,” said Livonia coach Ray Maxwell. “[Mattituck] is as good as we’ve seen.”
The Bulldogs escaped the first half tied at 1 after the Tuckers had a chance to make it a two or three goal lead. Much like their previous game against East Aurora, the Bulldogs were buried in the defensive zone trying to fight off the Tuckers’ attack.
They did so long enough to strike a quick counter-attack in the first half that kept them afloat.
“They were an incredible team,” Maxwell said. “As good as East Aurora was, these guys were even better. They were solid and outplayed us most of the game.”
It still wasn’t enough for the Tuckers, who were left with the unfortunate reality that sometimes, the better team doesn’t win.
For as proud as Litchhult was for everything his team accomplished this season, to see his players fall short in a game they played so well still hurt.
“I think these guys will look back, think about how great of a run they put Mattituck and the community on,” Litchhult said, “but overall I think the better team will be getting on the bus and going home today.”
Burkhardt and sophomore forward Kaan Ilgin caused fits for the Bulldogs all game. The Bulldogs struggled to stay with either player as they created multiple scoring chances throughout the game.
Burkhardt, after a three-goal, two-assist game in the Southeast Regional, easily could have had another multiple-goal game. After the Bulldogs tied the game midway through the first half, Mattituck sophomore James Hayes lofted a long shot that sailed over Livonia goalkeeper Sean Smith. The ball bounced off the crossbar directly down and came out to Burkhardt, who was all alone in front of the goal. He tried to quickly chip the ball into the net, but Smith recovered to make the save.
Early in the second half Burkhardt ripped a shot off the left post.
“It was fantastic the way they played,” Litchhult said. “That’s soccer. You don’t bury your chances and that’s what happens.”
The Bulldogs grabbed the lead on a header off a corner kick with 26:08 left in the second half. Brandon Holley sent the ball into the box from the right corner and Mitch Kinney was there to head the ball into the top-left corner.
With the 2-1 lead, the Bulldogs turned into a more defensive team, packing in the back with defenders. The Tuckers struggled to get as many scoring chances over the final 20 minutes.
“They had some big guys in the box and they just stacked it back there, played a lot of kick and run,” Litchhult said. “We kind of got roped into that. We played too direct, didn’t play our game, went down the middle too much.”
With the Tuckers pushing up desparate for an equalizer, the Bulldogs snuck in another goal with 3:00 left to clinch the victory. Holley put the game away after knocking in a great cross from Tanner Pierce.
“Once we got the lead I thought it lifted our spirits,” Maxwell said. “I thought [Mattituck] looked a little tired. Plus the field was getting a bit sloggy out here. It was getting tough.”
After playing their last three games on turf, the Tuckers were back on a grass field, which likely didn’t help some of their shooting, Litchhult said. Half the semifinal games at Middletown High School were played on the main turf field and the rest were on the adjacent grass field.
Litchhult said the team’s seniors — including starters like Burkhardt, Stephen Urwand, Evan Neighley, Tyler Connell and Ryan Finger — led the team on an incredible journey.
“You’re going to miss them,” Litchhult said. “Every single one of them. Everything they’ve done for us. They’re a great group of seniors. They played for each other, played together and never broke down.”