Tuckers fall short in county soccer final

The final horn sounded, the game was over. 

On the south side of the field, the Babylon High School soccer players rushed together to celebrate their victory.

On the north side, Mattituck’s team trudged slowly off the pitch, almost as though the Tuckers didn’t want to leave Diamond in the Pines in Coram.

There was good reason, as 11 starters, and 21 players total, had just played their final high school game, a 2-0 loss in the Suffolk County Class B final.

It was an emotional moment, particularly for two Tuckers.

Senior goalkeeper Jack Golder, who set the school’s career shutout record (23), would have traded that for a county championship in a heartbeat.

“When you work so hard for this for so long for your coaches, your school and your teammates, it’s tough to look at everything that I’ve accomplished,” he said. “Right now, it’s just not a great feeling walking off this field, never to be able to play again.”

A tearful Cris Arreola, who was consoled by a teammate, wanted to continue a family tradition. His older brother Mario was an important piece of the Tuckers’ 2014 state championship team, which was the last time they won a county crown.

“It’s not how we wanted it to end up, especially for me,” Arreola said. “I’m always wanting to follow my brother’s steps and win the counties, even go upstate.”

Head coach Dan O’Sullivan, whose squad lost in penalty kicks to Babylon in the 2021 final, was hoping the sophomores from that team would give themselves a proper send-off to conclude their careers.

O’Sullivan called the defeat, “devastating,” adding that he was “heartbroken.”

“There’s 21 of these guys that have been here for three if not four years,” he said. “We’ve always had this expectation of getting here and they do a great job during the year of getting to this point, but just so upset for them that we couldn’t get over the top.”

Mattituck (10-4-2) found itself three minutes and 48 seconds in, when Babylon (14-2-1) was awarded a controversial penalty kick after the referee called a handball in the box.

“Going down four minutes into the game put us behind the eight ball from the start,” O’Sullivan said.

“Tensions were high,” Golder said. “We were excited. We got pretty unlucky early. We were chasing the whole game, couldn’t really get anything going to really get into rhythm. So, props to them.”

The Tuckers never got things going. Babylon dominated the midfield, winning 50-50 and second balls.

“You’ve got to credit them,” O’Sullivan said. “They know how to play together as a team. We tried to switch things around the second half, with at least three or four different formations just to try to win back the middle of the field, because for a lot of the game, we had no middle of the field. That was really the difference.”

With 1:38 remaining, Babylon co-captain Ben Dellafranca sealed the game with a header as the Panthers secured their fourth consecutive county title.

Golder was at the top of his game, making five saves, some of them beauties. With 12:11 remaining, he produced a spectacular kick save on Owen Morris. An impressed Babylon head coach Dennis McGovern told O’Sullivan: “That was some save.”

That was nothing new to O’Sullivan.

“He stood on his head today,” he said. “He’s our leader in the back. He’s been our vocal leader. When there’s times that I need somebody to step up and say something to the team, it’s always been him.

“He knew he had to have his best game and he did. He did everything he could to keep us in the game. He had an incredible career.”

Golder will play for O’Sullivan for one more season ­— baseball in the spring.

“Hopefully, we can go after these guys and win one county final together,” O’Sullivan said.

O’Sullivan wanted the return trip to Mattituck to be a learning experience.

“We do a tradition on the bus ride home,” he said. “I’m going make all 21 seniors, while the emotions are raw, speak from the bottom of their heart. It’s emotional, but it’s a chance for the younger guys to see how much it means to the program to these guys and to see if in the future, as early as next year, we hopefully will avenge this for the seniors that didn’t get that opportunity this year.”