To beat a skillful team such as Pierson/Bridgehampton in the Suffolk County Class C boys soccer championship match, Southold realized it was going to have to play as close to a perfect game against its eternal rivals.
The two-time defending county champions, whose athleticism has been one of their strengths, certainly had their moments, but dropped a 2-0 decision to the Whalers on a rainy Saturday afternoon at Diamond in the Pines in Coram.
In fact, Southold head coach Andrew Sadowski gave credit where it was due, applauding his archrivals on the field with his hands and then sending some compliments their way with his words.
“We were behind the eight from the first half,” he said. “We had problems adjusting to their speed on the outside in the middle.”
The game was played in intermittent rain, especially in the opening half.
“The weather certainly had a major impact on their goals,” Sadowski said. “We just didn’t get that slippery bounce that I was hoping for that would put us back in it.
“The second half I happy with the effort going forward. They’re a good team. They have quite a bit of skill.”
Southold co-captain and senior defender Thomas Cardi, hoping to complete his high school career with three consecutive county titles, experienced Pierson’s excellence in the first half.
“They possess the ball well,” he said. “They’re fast. They played it over the top. They were first to the ball most of the time. They’re winning balls in the air. They had a good first touch.”
The First Settlers paid for it dearly early and late in the opening half.
With 33 minutes and 31 seconds remaining in the half, Jose Ulloa put a right-wing feed from Helio Paucer past goalkeeper Gavin Fredricks to take a 1-0 lead.
“We were kind of asleep from the start, but we’ve got to pick our game,” Cardi said.
With only 2:28 left, the Whalers doubled their advantage as Brandon Winenga raced down the left side. Fredricks came out to cut down the angle, but Wingenga slipped the ball into the open net.
Sadowski called that goal “a real killer.”
“Going into halftime one down is a different mindset than two down,” he added. “We had opportunities; we didn’t capitalize on them.
Added Cardi: “Two mistakes, that’ll cost you the game. That’s the way soccer goes.”
The First Settlers’ best scoring opportunity came with 10:56 to go in the match. James (Jack) Sepenoski fired a shot to the right of goalkeeper Gavin Gilbride.
“Oh my gosh,” Sadowski said. “That’s just technique. He hit with the wrong part of the split. At  minutes left, we come back and give them a different run as well.”
Sepenoski wished he had that shot back.
“I was in there and I pushed it just wide,” he said. “I should have taken another touch and put it in the back of the net.”
During the regular season, Pierson rolled to a 6-1 win over Southold on Sept. 25, before the First Settlers registered a 1-1 draw on Oct. 18.
“We did some stuff better and it was more of an effort,” Pierson head coach Peter Solow said. “The last time we came out against some really, really flat and didn’t play particularly well.”
Southold finished the season at 6-10-1 in League VII. The First Settlers had to tussle with four larger Class B teams in the league, which made it difficult for them and Pierson (9-7-1).
“We had an up-and-down season,” Sadowski said. “Sometimes the effort was 110 percent. Sometimes they were half a step behind, trying to figure out their way, what they were doing. High school sports, that’s why we do this.”
Sadowski said the First Settlers were plagued by injuries. For example, Cardi, a senior co-captain, overcame several injuries during his career to step up big this season and Saturday. In fact, he was sidelined for 10 days during the season with COVID-19.
“It was really weird,” Cardi said. “A couple of other kids were out 10 days with COVID. You have to run a lot in this sport. You can’t just be out of shape.”