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Girls Soccer: Wheatley blanks MSG in LI final

The success of the first-year Mattituck/Southold/Greenport girls soccer team was validated by a Suffolk County Class B championship and a trip to the Long Island final. Then, just like that, MSG’s season was all over — gone with the wind.

Strong gusts whipped across the field at Islip High School Saturday, but the winds of fortune blew in Wheatley’s direction. Junior forward Isabelle Rios assisted on a first-half goal by Rebecca Sparacio before scoring herself in the second half, sealing a 2-0 victory over MSG in the regional final. Wheatley coach Michelle Santoro said it is the second Long Island title in three years for the Wildcats (9-4-3), who will play in a state semifinal next Saturday at SUNY/Cortland.

For MSG (9-9), the end came with tears as teammates consoled each other.

“Any game at this stage is going to be tough,” said defender Marie Mullen, one of MSG’s 11 seniors. She continued, “It’s heartbreaking, but thinking [about] where we came from, I’m proud of every girl on this field.”

It wasn’t so much that MSG was blown away as its offense was stopped in its tracks by Wheatley’s dogged defense. Wheatley goalkeeper Cecilia Jozef needed to make only two saves for the shutout. MSG was able to muster just three shots in all.

“They definitely stepped in front of all our balls,” said MSG junior Kaitlin Tobin, who was moved around the midfield and forward positions. “We couldn’t connect many passes. I feel like we played aggressive, but not aggressive enough. I think we played with a lot of heart. We just couldn’t fully execute.”

Wheatley, the Nassau County champion for a sixth straight year, was rewarded for its territorial advantage with a goal 1 minute and 48 seconds before halftime. Lexi Burke laid off a pass for Rios on the right flank. Rios then found Sparacio in front of the goal. With MSG’s Nikki Searles on her back, Sparacio turned and sent a low, right-footed shot to the left corner.

Wheatley came within inches of adding to that lead less than eight minutes into the second half. Rios, on a counterattack, sent a shot past goalkeeper Sarah Santacroce, only to see it bounce off the far left goalpost before an MSG defender corralled it to safety.

With less than 24 minutes remaining in the second half, MSG coach Chris Golden made a goalkeeping change, replacing Santacroce with Krissy Worysz. It was part of a desperate push forward. Santacroce was inserted at sweeper, allowing Lauren Zuhoski to move up to help fuel the stagnant attack.

Wheatley received Rios’ insurance goal with 14:59 left. A Sparacio pass sent Rios through. Rios’ initial shot was blocked by Worysz, but Rios banged in the rebound.

MSG’s best scoring chance may have been its first shot 16:50 into the game when a blast by Claire Gatz veered to the right.

“That’s our strength, moving the ball in and getting our chances,” Golden said. “We weren’t able to get that last ball that would free us. I thought we played well. I thought everyone that went on that field did what they needed to do.”

In the end, MSG had to settle for a runner-up trophy.

Tobin said she is grateful that MSG was formed, a consolidation of the Mattituck and Southold/Greenport programs that separately were facing low numbers. Golden said had the programs remained separated, Mattituck probably would have had enough players for a varsity team but no junior varsity team, and Southold/Greenport would have had barely enough to field a varsity team.

“For the first time in years, we had a JV and we had kids playing at appropriate levels,” he said. “We have the makings of a good program.”

It was quite a ride for MSG, which opened the season with six straight losses.

“Even when we lost today, we hold our heads high,” Tobin said. “We were happy with what we got out of this year. We made history as a first-year program. We came out of nowhere, basically. The fact that we were able to compete in a Long Island championship [game], you’re never going to forget about stuff like that.”

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Photo caption: Mattituck/Southold/Greenport players console each other following their 2-0 loss to Wheatley in the Long Island Class B final. (Credit: Bob Liepa)