It isn’t the run-of-the-mill soccer games or the one-sided contests that excite Stephen Urwand. No, what really gets Urwand’s competitive juices flowing are the big games. The bigger, the better. The higher the stakes, the better. The more pressure, the better.
That, it seems, is when Urwand is at his best.
“I’m one of those intense players,” Mattituck’s senior right midfielder said. “When it’s high stakes, when it’s intense, I come in. That’s my thing. That’s when I want to do good, when there’s fans, under the lights. That’s when I perform.”
The spotlight will be on Urwand and his teammates — figuratively if not literally — on Saturday afternoon when the Tuckers (16-3-1) take on the Far West Region champion Livonia Bulldogs (19-0-1) in a New York State Class B semifinal at Middletown High School’s Faller Stadium. The winner will play for the state championship on Sunday against the survivor of the Ichabod Crane-Susquehanna Valley semifinal.
[Check back Saturday for live coverage from Middletown]
If Urwand’s playoff form is to be used as a guide, one shouldn’t be surprised if he strikes for a goal or two. What Urwand has done this postseason has been nothing short of remarkable. Because of a scheduling crunch that resulted in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Mattituck played four playoff games in six days. Urwand scored in each of those games, pumping in six goals. Perhaps most impressively of all, though, is the fact that Urwand delivered the game-winning goal in the last three of those games.
“When the intensity rises, Steve Urwand’s game rises,” said Mattituck coach Mat Litchhult.
Litchhult, who has been around Mattituck soccer since the early 1990s when he played for the Tuckers, cannot recall a Mattituck player doing something like this before. “I can’t compare it,” he said. “His consistency throughout the playoffs and coming through in the big spot, I don’t think you could put it on par with another Mattituck soccer player.”
Lest anyone forget, it was Urwand who netted the game-winning goal from a brilliant volley that gave Mattituck a victory over Center Moriches in last year’s county final.
Some players have a knack for coming through in the clutch. Count Urwand among them.
“Urwand’s definitely one of those guys,” Mattituck’s senior right back, Evan Neighley, said. “Urwand’s been playing outstanding. He’s really good. You know what it is, he’s a really clutch player, that’s what it is. That’s what it comes down to, you know. We can pretty much always count on him.”
Urwand said he cannot relate his current playoff form to anything he has done before. “Honestly,” he said, “I couldn’t have asked for a better position to be in right now.”
Urwand has 13 goals to his credit this season, but the biggest goal of his life had to be his chipped shot into the left corner of the goal that snapped a 4-4 tie with 7 minutes 4 seconds remaining in the game and stood for a 5-4 triumph over Spackenkill in the Southeast Region final.
Urwand has proven to be a clutch player for a clutch team that survived two overtime games during these playoffs, including a 1-0 double-overtime thriller over Carle Place in the Long Island final.
“A double overtime goal in the Long Island championship is just absolutely crazy,” Neighley said. “When it comes down to it, we’ve been finishing right at the end of the game.”
David Burkhardt, a senior center midfielder, turned in an outstanding performance in the regional final. He was involved in all five Mattituck goals, scoring a natural hat trick and assisting twice, giving him 23 goals and 6 assists for the season.
“It took me a while to understand what happened and what he did out there,” Litchhult said. “… I have not seen a performance like that in history.”
The Tuckers can also look to one of their talented sophomores, forward Kaan Ilgin, for offense. Ilgin has collected 15 goals and 22 assists.
Mattituck hopes to add Livonia to its list of playoff victims: Southampton, Center Moriches, Carle Place and Spackenkill.
For most high school teams, competing outside their county is venturing into unknown territory. The Tuckers know they will be facing an undefeated opponent in Livonia, but not much more than that.
“Any time you get to this level, you’re going to be playing a good team,” Litchhult said. “There are not going to be any cakewalks.”
As for itself, Mattituck has been impressive this season. Its only losses have come to Suffolk County Class A champion East Hampton, perennial power Sayville, and rival Center Moriches.
With so many potential pitfalls to navigate, reaching the state final four isn’t easy, and the opportunity doesn’t come along often.
“Every day we have another practice is a day [we’re thankful for],” Urwand said before Thursday’s practice.
Mattituck is seeking what would be its third state championship. The Tuckers last reached the final four in 2003, Litchhult’s second year in charge of the team, when they won their second state title. Livonia never won a state crown, but was a state semifinalist in 1995.
In a show of unity, almost all of the Tuckers dyed their hair blond for the playoffs. That doesn’t include the coaches, although there is a possibility that the black-haired Litchhult could become a blond.
“It’s a little new tradition,” Litchhult said. “I’ll told them if they win two more games, I’ll do it.”