When a dead-ball situation arises, Casey Szczotka comes to life.
She knows it’s her time to shine. That’s how it has been this season for the youngest player and only freshman on the Mattituck/Southold/Greenport girls soccer team. Szczotka has scored a team-leading eight goals in her first varsity season, and that’s neat enough. But get this: Four of those goals have come from penalty kicks and the other four from free kicks.
Among them was a 40-yarder she struck Tuesday night that allowed MSG to steal a hard-fought 1-1 tie at Southampton High School.
“Let’s just say, ‘Wow,’ ” MSG captain and left back Adrine Demirciyan said. “That was impressive. I mean, Casey’s been a big part of the team, a huge addition this year. She’s a stud.”
Taking penalty kicks and free kicks may be Szczotka’s favorite part of the game.
“Well, one, I like the pressure of it,” she said. “It’s all up to me. And, two, you know, no one can defend you. They’re 10 meters out, so they can’t come up to you. And it’s just you, basically, and the goalie.”
Cameron Stanton drew a foul that presented Szczotka with the opportunity she relishes. She delivered a booming kick that ticked off goalkeeper Amy Jimenez’ raised hands and into the net 2 minutes, 55 seconds into the second half.
“It’s almost relieving, you know,” Szczotka said. “I needed a goal. We needed to break that zero-zero tie.”
Southampton, however, finally notched the well-deserved equalizer it was looking for with 17:54 left in regulation time. Carli Cameron, Southampton’s all-time leading goal scorer with 51 and one of 12 seniors the Mariners recognized on Senior Night, saw to that. Vivienne Archer, positioned on the left flank, passed to Cameron, who turned on the ball and cranked a right-footed shot in. Cameron took a game-high 10 shots, three of which were on goal.
The teams went on to play 20 minutes of scoreless overtime for a total of 100 minutes of soccer.
The draw snapped MSG’s six-game win streak and Southampton’s four-game losing skid. MSG (6-1-2, 5-1-1 Suffolk County Division II) dodged a bullet, though. Southampton (1-6-1, 1-6-1) outshot MSG, 19-7, and came tantalizingly close to scoring on other occasions.
“I’ll take the tie,” MSG coach Chris Golden said. “Sometimes a tie’s a win.”
Southampton came close to scoring a flukish goal in overtime when MSG goalkeeper Aaliyah Shorter raced forward to clear a ball with her feet. The ball ricochetted off Southampton’s Emily Zukosky and was bouncing back to an unguarded goal before Demirciyan sprinted back and cleared it about three yards from the goal line.
“That was close,” said Demirciyan.
And there were numerous other close calls. Cameron stroked a searing 35-yard free kick that just swerved around the far right goalpost with less than two minutes left in the second half. With Southampton pressing forward in the first half, Taylor Zukosky forced Shorter to extend herself low to her right for the best of her five saves.
The match was physical, too. “It was war,” Demirciyan said. “It was more like rugby [than] soccer. It was a rough game.”
Southampton didn’t look anything like a team with the record it has. “We’re in a power-ranking system, and we have had a monster schedule,” coach Sean Zay said. “We played some of the best teams in the county and © we’ve played some games against some teams where we played very, very well and just lost it for like three minutes and [gave] up two goals.”
Golden, who coached MSG for the first two years of its existence before sitting out last season and returning this fall, said: “Listen, this is how you got to play the game sometimes. Sometimes things don’t come easy and then you have to be resilient and you got to battle through © The kids played a hundred minutes of soccer, so they’re walking off, they’re tired, they’re hurting, but you know, the tie is alright, but this is part of competing. This is the varsity level.”
Szczotka, a holding midfielder, could be called a dead-ball specialist, but she can do other things as well, such as defend. That was clear when she made a textbook slide tackle in the second half to snip out a Southampton scoring chance.
But, for now at least, she’s known primarily for her expertise on dead balls.
“I practice free kicks all the time, like outside of practice,” Szczotka said, “and I was hoping, you know, hopefully my practice panned out.”
It sure has.