CLASS B STATE SEMIFINALS | TUCKERS 6, LAKERS 0
Referee Larry Bechard blew his whistle to signify the end of play.
The score was 5-0 in favor of Mattituck as the happy Tuckers walked off the Twin Towers Middle School field in Middletown, N.Y. smiling and hugging each other for a job well done.
And it was only halftime of the New York State Class B semifinals against Skaneateles Saturday morning.
In their most dominating performance of the season, the Tuckers made that score stand up and then some, adding another goal late in the match to register a 6-0 triumph over the Section III school. Mattituck (18-2) will gun for its third state title at Middletown H.S. at 10 a.m. Sunday against Beekmantown (Section VII; 18-2-0), 1-0 winners over Livonia.
The Tuckers would have preferred to have played Livonia, which eliminated them from the state semifinals in 2012, but you don’t always get what you want.
On Saturday, though, the Tuckers seemingly did whatever they wanted against the Lakers (17-3-1). Senior Mario Arreola led the way with two goals and one assist. Freshman Axel Rodrigues-Canel, called up from the JV, put the exclamation point on a virtuoso performance with 5:24 remaining on a cold, crisp, 37-degree morning.
“I don’t like the cold,” Arreola said. “Scoring goals keeps me warm, running around. I played the best soccer I’ve played in a long time today.”
Actually, Arreola and the Tuckers were more than warm. They were hot.
“The first 40 minutes was some of the best soccer that you can possibly watch, not even just from our own team,” Mattituck coach Mat Litchhult said. “It was our best 40 minutes. I was really, extremely proud of the ways the guys came out and dealt with the cold, got up early. From the opening whistle, they were dominant.”
Litchhult felt the loss to Livonia was part of his senior-laden team’s motivation.
“Being here as sophomores and the feeling of going home after the semifinals really pushed them and drove them,” he said. “Knowing that most of these guys are seniors and knowing the end is near you just have to leave it on the field. What we talked about before the match, these are great opportunities and big players rise to big occasions. I can’t point to somebody on our team who had a down match. Every single player that stepped on the field rose to the occasion.”
The Tuckers made quick work of the Lakers. Walter Jacob, a left back, scored off an Arreola pass at 8:20. Paul Hayes headed in a Kaan Ilgin corner kick at 12:58. Arreola put home a John Batuello feed from the top of the penalty area at 27:07 before James Hayes headed home a Kevin Williams corner kick at the right far post at 29:06 and Arreola scored on a breakaway with 2:01 left in the half.
It was then left up to the defense and goalkeepers Ben Knowles and Nick Vitolano, who came on with 4:08 left, to secure the clean sheet.
Litchhult had to call a few audibles. Instead of attending the state banquet Friday night, the team ate at a local Italian restaurant.
“Litch wanted us to stay away from Skaneateles, just wanted to keep our heads away from them,” Paul Hayes said. “There were some Twitter battles. It was a smart call.”
The Tuckers were scheduled to eat breakfast in the same room of their hotel room Saturday morning, but Litchhult thought better of it and brought in bagels, bananas, water and Gatorade for the team to eat in their rooms.
“It is kind of a weird setup,” he said. “When you are a few doors down from the team you’re playing in the same hallway in the hotel, separated by maybe or door or two, it kind of leads to some awkward tension.
“I didn’t think it would be an opportunity for us to go down there and rub elbows with a team that we’re going to be stepping onto the field with in a couple of hours. It didn’t make a lot of sense to me.”
Unlike their some of their recent championship wins, the Tuckers did not celebrate after this one.
“It’s not over yet,” Paul Hayes said. “It’s great to win 6-0. I’m smiling. I’m happy, I’m speechless. But my goal is to win tomorrow.”