Girls Soccer: Foster is MSG’s playoff hero

Playing hero in the Suffolk County Class B girls soccer semifinals?

Ah, that’s old hat to senior forward Halle Foster.

As a sophomore with Mattituck High School two years ago, Foster was a bundle of nerves before she converted the winning penalty kick in a shootout.

As a grizzled veteran, Foster had no time to get nervous on Tuesday, connecting from the run of play with 25 minutes and 10 seconds left in the second half to lift second-seeded Mattituck/Southold/Greenport to a 2-1 victory over No. 3 Center Moriches in Southold.

“It was like in the moment and it happened,” Foster said. “It was insane.”

With goalkeeper Jessica Rosen out of the net, Foster was staring at an empty net.

“I was just like, ball, goal, got to go,” she said. “You barely have any time to think it’s so split second.”

The goal snapped a 1-1 deadlock and lifted MSG into the county final against the winner of Tuesday’s other semifinal between top-seeded Babylon and No. 4 Southampton at Shoreham-Wading River High School on Saturday at 5 p.m.

Foster had no preference. “We can show them,” she said. “Either team.”

“You know, we’re ready to take on whoever,” said senior midfielder Claire Gatz, who scored the equalizer and set up the winner. “Pretty confident with our team.”

MSG (11-6) demonstrated why before several hundred students from the Southold Elementary School and the junior and senior high school who packed the stands and lined the east side of the field in the first half. It gave the game an old-school feeling dating back decades.

“We didn’t let up at all,” Foster said. “I could not have imagined a better game for us to play. It was amazing, getting to play at home and having all these fans watching us.”

The Red Devils (7-9-1) drew first blood with 2:02 remaining in the opening half as Kristin Berger converted a rebound past goalkeeper Aaliyah Shorter. Their celebration was short-lived as Gatz found the range in the middle of the penalty area only 34 seconds later for her 13th goal.

“Definitely frustrated because we were putting the pressure on at the beginning of the game,” Gatz said. “I knew that I wouldn’t let this be our last game. I came out even stronger. Our entire team did. More energy. That’s what really sparked our first goal.”

The goal was a major momentum changer.

“Instead of being down and going into halftime 1-0 and talking about what we need to do to, we answered right back,” MSG coach Chris Golden said. “I said at halftime, ‘Somebody here is going to be a hero. It’s just a question of who it’s going to be.’ ”

That hero turned out to be Foster, who scored her 11th goal this season.

Behind its pressing game, MSG dominated huge stretches of the second half. The hosts won most of the 50-50 balls and second balls to keep the pressure on in its offensive end, leading to the game-winner.

“The key is finding the right area on the field to put Halle so she could have the most success,” Golden said. “She can play out wide. We started using her up top because she has a good understanding. It’s difficult. The forward mentality is hard to teach, hard to train, but we’ve worked with her every day where she’s looking to sit in those seams. She’s looking to collect balls. More importantly, she is looking to follow up on anything. She was right where she needed to be. Real kudos for her. It was a quality effort.”

This is the third consecutive year that MSG players reached the county finals. As separate schools in 2017, Mattituck booked a spot in the Class B final, Southold/Greenport in the Class C championship game. In the first year of the merger in 2018, MSG won the Suffolk Class B crown.

The team has come a long way since the start of the 2018 season, when it dropped its six opening games. Since then MSG has recorded a 20-9 mark, many games against Class A competition.

“It’s a huge deal because it gives us a second chance to prove ourselves, like we’re not some little school that combined because we don’t have enough girls,” Foster said. “We actually do have talent here, a lot of talent. Getting that far is going to show how amazing we are on the field.”

Photo caption: Mattituck/Southold/Greenport’s Halle Foster, far right, is congratulated by teammates Claire Gatz, middle, and Kaitlin Tobin after scoring the winning goal against Center Moriches goalkeeper Jessica Rosen at Southold High School. (Credit: Daniel De Mato)