Boys Soccer: Center Moriches stops Tuckers in PKs

Center Moriches. Again.

The cycle continues.

For a fourth straight year, Mattituck saw its high school boys soccer season come to an end with a playoff loss to Center Moriches. Similar to Mattituck’s pair of 1-0 losses to the Red Devils during the regular season, Wednesday’s Suffolk County Class B semifinal was a tight, defensive battle, full of drama and, in the end, pain and disappointment for the Tuckers.

After a late second-half goal by Mattituck’s Bryan Flores made it 1-1 and forced overtime, the third-seeded Tuckers succumbed in dreaded penalty kicks, soccer’s version of a coin flip. Colin Raupp blocked Jack Burkhardt’s penalty kick to bring Center Moriches a 4-3 triumph in the tiebreaker on its home field.

“It’s devastating to lose like this,” senior central defender Chris Nicholson said after the game, played in light rain.

The result sets up a county final between the top two seeds, League VII champion Southampton (14-1-2) and Center Moriches (13-2-2), Saturday at Diamond in the Pines in Coram. It will be Center Moriches’ fifth straight appearance in a county final.

The Tuckers (9-7-1) did everything in their power to try to prevent that from happening. Burkhardt called it “the most intense game, probably, I’ve ever played. Everything was on the line.”

Center Moriches coach Chris O’Brien said, “It was another Center Moriches-Mattituck game and it was a war.”

And it all came down to stressful penalty kicks after 110 minutes of regulation and overtime.

“I hate them, but I said to my assistants, ‘Sooner or later, one of these have to go our way,’ ” O’Brien said. “We lost two Long Island championships on PKs to Carle Place the last three years. In between was a state championship. I think over the years we’ve lost a lot more than we’ve won.”

The first four shooters for Center Moriches — Liam O’Brien, Byron Miguel-Perez, Jesus Rojas and Anthony Sunderman — converted their attempts. Then, it was Raupp, the goalkeeper and player of the game, who took his spot kick. The junior shot it right at his counterpart, Emmett Ryan, though. It was perhaps Raupp’s only mistake of the day.

After Mattituck’s Berkan Ilgin sent his attempt over the crossbar, Oswald Cuellar, Flores and Nicholson put in their penalties. Cuellar’s initial attempt was saved, but he was given a second chance after Raupp was judged to have moved off his goal line too early.

The game went to penalties thanks to Flores. The senior midfielder notched his fifth goal of the year off a pass from Cuellar with 2 minutes, 32 seconds to go in the second half.

Senior midfielder Liam O’Brien, the coach’s son, scored his seventh goal of the year for a 1-0 Center Moriches lead at 24:34. After tracking a ball Ryan McDermott laid down the left wing for him, O’Brien struck a precise shot that skimmed off the grass and between the outstretched hand of Ryan and the left goalpost.

Raupp stood out, making five saves through 110 minutes. He did well to parry aside a header by Matt Czujko with 8:54 to go in the second half. That one left Czujko holding his head in disbelief. Then, with 1:30 remaining in regulation time, Raupp used a leg to deflect an Ilgin shot for a corner kick.

“If we don’t have Colin Raupp today, we don’t win the game,” Chris O’Brien said. “He played great.”

Ryan did well himself, knocking aside a close-range header by Patrick Jones late in the second half.

Center Moriches’ victory did not come without a price. Its leading scorer, junior midfielder Mike Luongo (12 goals, four assists this season), left the game with an injury to his right shoulder with 8:54 left in the second half and didn’t return. His status for the final was up in the air. “We’ll see,” Chris O’Brien said. “He’s in a sling, so we’re hoping for the best.”

Nicholson said: “Whenever we come here it’s going to be a battle. You know, it’s a tough rivalry game. They’re very good; we’re very good. It’s just fun to play them, to be honest. I just wish the result was different.”

Mattituck had the strongest team it has had in years.

“This was the best eleven we put on the field since I’ve been here as a head coach,” Will Hayes said. “This is really kind of setting the bar for us as a program moving forward of what we’re looking to be on the field and what we’re looking to be off the field. We have a lot of high-character guys who managed to do some really great things this season, and I don’t want their achievements to be lost because they didn’t win a championship. They played extremely well throughout the season and I’m really proud of them.”

Photo caption: Mattituck’s Chris Nicholson connects for a header off a corner kick, but it flew over Center Moriches goalkeeper Colin Raupp’s goal. (Credit: Bob Liepa)

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