Before the girls’ soccer team took the field in yesterday’s Suffolk County Championship, coach Mark Maningo implored his girls to, “Be in the moment because we may not make it back here again.” It may have taken twenty extra minutes, but the Bears seized their moment, winning their fourth consecutive County title and the 36th in school history. Despite having defeated Port Jeff twice this season by scores of 2-0 and 5-2, the girls knew they would be in for a struggle with the senior-laden Royals. In their last meeting on October 21, things got heated toward the end of an emotional contest and the Brook knew they would have to take Port’s best shot in order to win their sixth consecutive postseason game. On a frigid evening, the girls did just that, reminding us again why they have won ten championships over the past four seasons, winning 1-0 in double-overtime.
The game was a back-and-forth affair from its inception as both teams attacked the goal early and often. It was clear from the outset that the Royals were not intimidated by our girls. They were physical, their forwards passed the ball well, and their defense was very solid. Their best chance at a goal came with 25 minutes remaining as a through-ball left keeper Danielle Pappas alone with a forward charging toward her. As she has so many times before, Pappas made a fantastic decision by sliding, taking out the offender and erasing Port’s opportunity. Our two best chances of the half were provided by Donna Liotine. With 20:40 remaining, she blasted a 40-yard strike that dipped with topspin, necessitating an adept save from the keeper. Then, with 8:44 remaining, Liotine ripped a free kick that appeared destined for the top shelf, but the netminder was equal to the challenge with a fingertip save. The half ended in a tenuous 0-0 tie and though the girls may have been dissatisfied with their first forty minutes, Coach Maningo assured them it was a great half of soccer and that if they kept to the game plan the scoring lanes would open up. | 0-0
Liotine began the second frame with another quality shot that would have found the side netting had the keeper not made a diving stop. For much of the opening ten minutes, both teams traded blows like well-acquainted boxers. With 35:46 left, Pappas made a diving save, at the 35-minute mark Gianna Scavo made a great run down the right sideline before putting a shot on goal, then Pappas again defended her net with 33 minutes left when she skied to pull down a free kick. As the clock ticked below twenty minutes our offense began to simmer. Liotine and Hennessy led the attack and a goal felt inevitable as wave after wave of offense beat against the Royal defense.
With 18:41 remaining, Hennessy gave a pass to Liotine just outside the box but a rip over the crossbar ended the threat. With 6:30 left, Hennessy gave a gorgeous cross to Liotine who put a great head on the ball. As the ball ricocheted toward the goal, the roar of the crowd rose and the girls on the sideline braced for a euphoric outburst, until the ball glanced off the post. Our final opportunity came with 3:09 left when Hennessy again proved the catalyst, tearing up the left side and turning the corner before missing the goal to the right. As regulation ended the Stony Brook fans could not help but feel uneasy. The girls had not been tested often this season and it remained to be seen how they would respond. | 0-0
In the first of two 10-minute overtime periods, the girls again had several opportunities but poor luck, a few close offside calls and a consistent Port Jeff defensive effort kept the match deadlocked. With 6:16 left in the second overtime, Liotine beat two defenders and put a left-footed strike off the crossbar. Liotine fell to the ground in disbelief and we all felt like collapsing with her. So many times we had come tantalizingly close to seizing the game, but just as often we came up empty. The girls on the sideline paced from the cold and the nervousness. Fans on both sides anxiously cheered every play. In a game this close one misplay, one heartbreaking call, one turn of bad luck had the potential to derail an entire season of work. Michelle Hennessy made sure that would not happen for the Bears.
With less than three minutes remaining, the senior was fouled just outside the box, giving Brianna Stiklickas a free kick ten yards outside the box. Stiklickas sent a beautiful ball into the air that bounced once in front of the goal before Hennessy buried her latest in a long line of weighty scores. The crowd erupted, the bench screamed and hugged and the girls ran upfield determined to put a stranglehold on the final 2:17. The remaining minutes rolled off the scoreboard without event and as the final seconds melted away the crowd and the girls on the field counted them down until 00:00 flashed and the Blue and White reveled in yet another crowning achievement.
After the girls had been presented with their fourth County trophy in as many years, Coach Maningo gathered his shivering warriors together and told them, “This is the best thing that could’ve happened to us.” He told them how important it was to be battle-tested at this time of the year and for a team who won so many games with ease this season, a win that required them to dredge up a deep desire to compete was exactly what they needed. He lauded the defense and in particular the play of Brianna Stiklickas who controlled the backfield at crucial moments in the game. | 1-0
Although Stony Brook threatened inside Port Jefferson’s zone for most of the second half and overtime, it came down to the 2:17 mark in the second overtime when Brianna Stiklickas found Hennessy inside for a goal that looked as if it would never come. The Bears’ defense and constant offensive pressure proved to be too much in the end as Port Jefferson’s playoff run ended Friday. The Royals finished in third place in League VIII play this season and were minutes away from a title.
~ The Port Jefferson Patch
A common cliché in athletics is, “Offense wins game, defense wins championships.” That phrase was never truer than tonight. For the first 97:43 of the match our potent attackers were unable to bulge the net; however, our incredible defense kept the Royals off the board until they did. Pappas was superlative in net in earning her seventh clean sheet of the season. In her last six postseason games she has given up a paltry two goals. The defense, comprised of Stiklickas, Brannon Burke, Madison Rylands, and Christine Brathwaite, was impregnable and were the unsung heroes of this epic match. Mikaela Stiklickas, Emily Anderson, Julia Shi, Rachel King, and Kierran Petersen provided valuable minutes on offense.
What impressed me most was the way our girls responded to adversity. In many of their wins our girls jumped out to an early lead and cruised to victory, but yesterday they proved they can battle and make failed run after failed run until they punch one in. I was so proud of how they never once allowed their frustration at net to change their attitude. They were true champions tonight. The girls move on to the Long Island Championship vs. Friends Academy on Tuesday, November 9 at Diamond in the Pines @ 6:30pm.
Michelle Hennessy scored seven and a half minutes into the second overtime, assisted by Brianna Stiklickas, to lead No. 1 Stony Brook (12-3) over No. 2 Port Jefferson in the Suffolk Class C final. The Stony Brook defense gave a great defensive effort in front of goalkeeper Danielle Pappas, who made six saves for her seventh shutout of the season.
The girls’ 4th straight County Championship is one shy of the school record set by the girls’ basketball team from 2006-2010.