The Mattituck/Southold/Greenport girls soccer team might have been out of breath, but the players were not out of words of praise for their performance after dropping a 1-0 decision at Sayville on Monday.
Even though the defending Suffolk County Class B champions had suffered their third loss of the season, they realized playing against Class A squads such as the Golden Flashes will prepare them for next month’s playoffs.
“I have never been happier that we have to play ‘A’ teams because it prepares us like we’ve never been prepared before,” said senior defender Sarah Santacroce. “Playing ‘A’ teams gets us ready when we play ‘B’ teams so, we’re ready to play them at a higher level.”
MSG (4-3, 3-3 Suffolk County Division II), which is 1-3 vs. Class A schools, was blanked for the second time this season. The other shutout was a 5-0 defeat to Class A Rocky Point on Sept. 5, but that did not deter the enthusiasm of senior midfielder Claire Gatz.
“It was one of our better performances,” she said of Monday’s game. “What our team really has is a willingness to work and a desire to win. I think that sets us apart from last year. We put it all on the field every game. That’s really important and this game we really showed it.”
Last season MSG struggled out of the gate. In the first year of the merger of two talented North Fork programs — perennial powerhouse Mattituck and Southold/Greenport — the team stumbled to a 0-6 start.
“We’re really close,” Gatz said. “We really bonded over preseason. We lost a lot of seniors from last year, so it’s a fairly new team, very young. Everyone’s willing to learn and work with each other.”
Head coach Chris Golden felt Sayville (2-4, 2-3) was the perfect test for his side.
“This ‘A’ school, they’re going to play for 80 minutes,” he said. “They’re not going to give us an inch. We’ve got to earn everything on the field. So, they’re going to press the attack for 80 minutes. They’re going to get back on defense. You saw players play 80 minutes. This was good preparation for like a playoff-like situation where the players got to log long minutes with high energy and a lot of effort.”
Plenty of more Class A challenges lie ahead. MSG will host Westhampton Beach on Saturday, play at Hauppauge on Oct. 10, welcome Amityville on Oct. 15 before visiting Wyandanch on Oct. 17 and Miller Place on Oct. 24.
“We work hard, and we don’t take any games for granted,” Gatz said. “Definitely a turning point in our season was after Rocky Point. It was a bad game for us. After that, we turned it around and really took every game seriously. It doesn’t matter if we’re playing the worst one in our league or the best ‘A’ school. We take it seriously.”
Sayville scored the lone goal with 7 minutes and 4 seconds remaining in the first half as Allison Reilly converted Elizabeth Argenziano’s free kick from the left side past goalkeeper Aliyah Shorter.
MSG’s best opportunity came with 18:23 remaining in the second half on a sequence that began on a throw-in. Gatz drilled a quick pass to senior Maggie Bruer, who found Mackenzie Conroy. Conroy fired a shot that goalkeeper Meghan McLaughlin saved.
“We played our absolute hardest. We played our hearts out,” Santacroce said. “We never gave up. Even in the last 10 seconds, we were sprinting everywhere. I couldn’t be prouder.”
Neither could Golden, who noticed his players emptied their tanks.
“You can see when they walked off the field they were exhausted,” he said. “You can’t ask them for any more than what they gave.”
The squad’s goal? Reach the county final again.
“I would like to go as far as we possibly can,” Santacroce said. “I just hope to be proud of my team. As long as we work 100%, then I am happy with what happens.”
Added Gatz: “We have what it takes to get there again. It’s not going to come easy. We’re definitely going to have to work for it.”
If MSG continues to improve against Class A teams, it could wind up as the class of Class B again.