Jason Cruz couldn’t believe what had happened.
Only several minutes prior he had just drilled a 20-yard shot into the lower left corner to lift Greenport to its first Suffolk County boys soccer championship in a decade Sunday.
“Is this really happening? We’re county champs,” he said, “and I’m beyond happy.”
His 11th goal of the year propelled the Porters to a 1-0 sudden-victory overtime result against North Fork neighbor and rival Southold in the Suffolk Class C final at Diamond in the Pines in Coram. It’s their fourth county crown, having won a Class D championship in 2008 and two Class C titles as a combined team with Southold in 1987 and 1993.
“It’s just unbelievable,” said co-captain and senior William Chapeton.
Perhaps more so to coach Sean Charters, who grew up in Greenport and was a member of the 2008 team.
“I’m ecstatic for these guys,” he said. “This is something that I won in high school. The reason why I wanted this job was to help bring them back to this. Seeing moments like, seeing them pose with the trophy or a plaque that they worked countless hours for is great. They earned it. They bought into my system and they earned it.”
The Porters (11-6) earned the right to play Solomon Schechter (Section 1), a 2-1 upset winner over Hamilton, in the Southeast Region final in Coram on Tuesday at 2 p.m. The winner will qualify for the state semifinals in Middletown Nov. 8-9.
The Porters don’t have much time to bask in the glory of winning a rare county championship because they will have only one day of rest.
“Right now we’re going to celebrate,” said senior goalkeeper Miguel Torres, who finished with six saves. “When we get home tonight and tomorrow, we should just rest, ice, take care of any injuries we have. If we have a practice, get some touches in as well to get ready for Tuesday.”
Charters, who watched Schechter defeat Hamilton on Saturday night, admitted he expected the top-seeded team to win but Schechter threw a wrinkle at its foes, playing its top goal scorer at sweeper.
“It’s a treat to see how they’ll come to play on Tuesday,” he said. “I don’t know if they will take the same approach. I don’t think they’re really going to come into that game on Tuesday to do that same thing. You don’t win a county title by accident. They’re a tough team. They’ve been notorious. They have won five out of the last seven Class C titles in Section I. You can’t back away, even if they don’t have a bunch of seniors like we do. They have guys who are ready to play.”
As it turns out, so did Greenport against the First Settlers (8-8) on a cold, late October Sunday afternoon.
Cruz settled matters 4 minutes and 56 seconds into the first overtime. A throw-in started the game-winning sequence. The ball was deflected to Cruz, who powered a shot with his left foot past goalkeeper Cole Brigham, who was outstanding in the match.
“Right now I’m speechless with all the hard work we had this season,” Cruz said. “I’m really proud for my team and myself. I’m really glad to be part of this team.”
The first half wasn’t going to make many teams’ highlight reels. It was essentially a midfield duel with more throw-ins than one could count because the ball was kicked or traveled out of bounds so many times. As the game progressed, Greenport started to put its mark on the match with its passing game, controlling possession and taking quality shots.
Southold coach Andrew Sadowski, who completed his 25th year coaching the team, was disappointed.
Sadowski, whose teams have reached county Class C finals in 13 of the past 14 years, said that he was “beyond frustrated.”
“Eight years getting to the final and losing by one goal is very frustrating,” he added. “The boys played the whole season with a lot of heart so I’m very proud of them for that.”
He also was quite proud of Brigham, who finished with 11 saves and kept the Settlers in the game, and center back Devin Quinones.
“Outstanding game by Cole and Devin, without a doubt,” Sadowski said. “They stuck to every ball, whatever came their way. Everybody else on the team has to do it. You can’t watch the game happen and that’s unfortunately what we did too much today. We watched the game. Second year in a row we got punished for watching the game.”
Charters saw a double win for the program that its success could translate into more athletes trying out for the team.
“To be around these guys, it’s incredible, it’s fun to see,” he said. “These kids won it, they earned it. It opens the eyes of other kids in school. Maybe they’ll come out for soccer next year because soccer isn’t the biggest sport in our school. It’s basketball. We’re a basketball school.”
For the time being, Suffolk County and the rest of Long Island soccer sees Greenport as a soccer school.
Photo caption: Jason Cruz (far right) celebrates his golden goal in overtime for Greenport along with teammates in their 1-0 triumph over Southold in the Suffolk County Class C final. (Credit: Garret Meade)