When the end comes, tears sometimes follow, but this was in the extreme.
After the horn sounded, ending the Suffolk County Class B girls soccer final Saturday night, the deliriously happy, triumphant Babylon players mobbed each other. Mattituck/Southold/Greenport players, meanwhile, looked devastated. Some just sat or squatted on the field, motionless, staring down. Others, bawling uncontrollably, were hugged and consoled by teammates.
MSG, which won last year’s Suffolk Class B championship in its first year of existence, took this 4-1 loss exceptionally hard. Coach Chris Golden later observed that the scene had a funeral feel to it.
The tears fell for a while before the MSG players finally exited Shoreham-Wading River High School’s Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field to the applause of their awaiting fans as they headed toward their bus.
MSG’s reaction was evidence of just how close the players on the team had grown.
“We’re a family and it’s so hard [for] this to be our last game and for it to be over,” said senior midfielder Claire Gatz, who struggled to fight back tears during her postgame interview. “It’s something that will hurt for a while.”
Another MSG senior, striker Halle Foster, described the team as a second family. “Our team is very, very close and it’s very hard to say goodbye to them after this,” she said before apologizing to pause and regain her composure. “I was very honored to play with every single one of them.”
For a team that draws players from three schools to show such unity is striking. Golden said it’s a testament to the leadership of captains Maggie Bruer, Sarah Santacroce, Kaitlin Tobin and Gatz, as well as MSG’s three other seniors. “It’s really a credit to the seniors on this team that they kind of took it as their mission to embrace all the kids and … this is one of the tightest, cohesive groups that I’ve ever coached,” he said.
MSG’s season, which began with a game against Babylon (a 3-2 win by the North Forkers), ended against top-seeded Babylon (13-5). That first game was way back on Sept. 3. The Panthers looked like a different team this time around as they secured their second county championship in three years. They earned a place in the Long Island final Nov. 9 at Berner Middle School.
Three set pieces and a breakaway resulted in the Babylon goals. Babylon shot out to a 2-0 lead. Meghan Flaugher flicked a 30-yard free kick from Jayne Stark with the top of her head 8 minutes and 56 seconds into the match for her 16th goal of the year. Then Stark sent goalkeeper Aaliyah Shorter the wrong way in putting away a penalty kick that was awarded after Campbell Stein was pushed down in the penalty area 5:05 into the second half.
MSG sophomore Mackenzie Conroy, who had scored the game-winner in the season-opening game against Babylon, struck against the Panthers again. After successive close-range attempts failed to get through, Conroy hammered in a shot at 46:26.
But Ashley Bell converted a breakaway for her 15th goal of the year and Kristen Szuchy pounded in a ball that bounced her way after a corner kick to seal things for Babylon.
“They capitalized on their opportunities,” Golden said. “They scored off of three set pieces, made the most of their opportunities, and it’s hard to come back when a team scores off of three set pieces like that. You know, they played well. They earned it. They deserved it.”
With 6:10 left to play, Santacroce cranked a hard shot off the crossbar after her corner kick bounced back out to her.
No. 2 seed MSG (11-7) is 20-16 in its two-year history. When it was mentioned that MSG has done well for itself, Golden said: “That has nothing to do with me and that has everything to do with the quality of kids that we get. I just stand here and try make people laugh with some quick wit.”
On Saturday night, though, Golden spent time consoling players.
“This is definitely one of the closest teams I’ve ever been involved with and I think that everyone feels we’re one big family, and … it’s really hard to end the season like this because no one wants to leave,” Tobin said. “We want to go back to practice tomorrow and keep working, but we can’t.”
Photo caption: Mattituck/Southold/Greenport’s Claire Gatz tries to get around Babylon’s Campbell Stein during the Suffolk County Class B final in Shoreham. (Credit: Bill Landon)