In soccer, it’s not always how you start, but how you finish.
And the Mattituck/Southold/Greenport high school girls soccer team is in the midst of finishing the season quite nicely, thanks to some nice finishing.
Second-seeded MSG continued its late-season surge with an emphatic 4-0 triumph over No. 3 Southampton in the Suffolk County Class C semifinals at Southold High School Tuesday afternoon.
“It was the best game we ever played together as a team,” said co-captain and forward Jill Golden, who finished with a goal and an assist. “We connected very well in the second half. We definitely settled into the game and showed what MSG was really all about. The beginning of the season was rough. We all played like individuals. You saw a team out here today.”
And a pretty lethal one at that.
“There was one game we had a lot of energy, there were some games we had a lot of composure and for the first time we put it together,” center back Sarah Santacroce said. “We had energy, we had determination, we had composure and we had all of the above. And we finished, which we weren’t doing at the beginning of the season.”
MSG (8-8), which combined the teams of perennial Class B powerhouse Mattituck and Southold/Greenport, a Class C state semifinalist last year, began the season with six losses. It has won four in a row as it will face top-seeded Babylon for the county crown in Center Moriches Saturday at 4:30 p.m. Babylon blanked Center Moriches Tuesday, 3-0.
“It’s not where you start so much as where you finish when the leaves turn color,” MSG coach Chris Golden said. “In the beginning we struggled. Not the team’s fault. That was more on me understanding players’ abilities and how they would fit into a role in a particular system. We experimented and struggled a little bit. We hit on something a couple of weeks ago. We really stuck to it with a style of play, composure and a simplicity to the game.
“I just sit back. I let them play a little bit, not mess it up too much.”
Added Maggie Bruer: “We were trying to get the chemistry from the three schools all year. It finally came together.”
MSG left little to chance, deploying a high-pressure attack that essentially turned the match into a half-field game as it kept its foes off balance and literally on their back foot. Its forwards and midfielders stifled the Mariners (6-9-1), forcing them to cough up the ball in their defensive end.
“It was definitely super important for us to pressure and win all of the balls in the air and just to dominate in all aspects,” said Claire Gatz, who had two assists. “We’re a team that always works hard. We use that to fuel our possession.”
“It’s a huge part of our offense,” Kaitlin Tobin said.
MSG struck with the game 2 minutes and 2 seconds old. Gatz started and finished her eighth goal that gave the hosts all the scoring they needed. She sent a pass into the middle to Jill Golden, who slipped it back to her partner up front. Gatz fired a shot past goalkeeper Angely Ramirez.
“Early and often, early and often!” a happy Chris Golden shouted from the bench.
Jill Golden connected for her second goal off a Nikki Searles corner kick during a scramble in the penalty area with 20:42 remaining in the half. Bruer slammed a shot into the lower left corner for a three-goal advantage and her second goal this season with 27:09 left in the second half before Tobin took advantage of an open net for a 4-0 lead for her fourth with 15:12 remaining.
“What’s really beautiful about this team was that four different people put the ball into the back of the net,” Jill Golden said. “We have a lot of players who could put the ball into the back of the net, whereas last year there were one or two players on both teams who scored a lot.”
Goalkeeper Krissy Worysz was credited with three saves for the shutout.
After the game, the MSG team walked to the center circle, sat down, prayed and gave thanks.
“Yesterday at the end of practice Rosie [Mollica, a midfielder] suggested that we go to the ‘S’ in the middle and that we go say a prayer and [our] goals,” Santacroce said. “We went around the circle and passed the ball and set goals for the today. Some of them actually got accomplished. We just thanked the circle.”
On Saturday, MSG hopes to have another opportunity to give thanks.