By Gavin Menu
In Suffolk County Class C boys soccer there are the Port Jefferson Royals and then, many levels below, is everyone else.
The defending New York State champions were masterful in their attack during a playoff semifinal Friday night and easily defeated Pierson-Bridgehampton, 8-2, at Diamond in the Pines park in Coram. The loss brought a successful, but inconsistent, season to and end for the Whalers.
Port Jeff (18-0) beat Southold, 3-1, to win the county Class C title on Saturday and then knocked off Friends Academy, the Nassau County champion, on Monday for their second consecutive Long Island Championship. The Royals, who beat Rhinebeck, 2-1, on Tuesday in the Southeast Regional, will play for another state title this weekend in Middletown, New York.
Following Friday’s loss, Whalers head coach Peter Solow gathered his players and told them that several years ago, the core group from Port Jefferson, many of who were 14, 15 or 16 years old at the time, had decided to commit to winning a state title. They passed on going to soccer academies and instead played consistently through the off-seasons while training hard on strength and conditioning.
“They elevated their game and they started to separate themselves from everyone else,” Solow said. “That’s what it takes to be a state champion.”
Just how far Port Jefferson separated itself was evident almost immediately on Friday when Royals midfielder Connor Crovello launched a perfectly-placed pass over the Whalers’ defense directly to the head of streaking All-State senior Blake Bohlen, who made the deflection look easy, scoring his first of three goals on the day.
There was hope early in the game for the Whalers thanks to the right foot of senior Forrest Loesch, who blasted a goal past Royals goalkeeper Gabe Davis, one of the best in the county, to tie the score at 1-1 with 27:35 remaining in the first half.
The Royals from that point on dominated the midfield and led 4-1 at halftime.
Nick Stephens replaced Ian Barrett in goal to start the second half but the Royals continued their assault, patiently working the ball through the midfield to score two quick goals within the first 10 minutes of the half, effectively putting the game out of reach.
“We do not look past anyone,” Port Jefferson coach John Poulianos said when asked about a game three weeks ago in which the Whalers played Port Jeff tough in a 1-0 Pierson loss at Mashashimuet Park. “They played very well in that game, and today, this was a great start for us.”
The Royals are widely considered one of the best teams in Suffolk County regardless of class. They beat Sayville, a Class A team that went undefeated in League V this year, and handled Class B Southampton in a scrimmage early in the year.
“We happen to be a Class C school, but I think, barring a couple of exceptions, we could play with anyone in the county,” Poulianos said. “We have probably seven high quality players and one of the best goalies in the county.”
Port Jeff emptied its bench halfway through the second half and Whaler sophomore Jack Fitzpatrick scored a goal late in the game long after it had been decided, although Solow praised his players for fighting hard until the end of the game against such a difficult opponent.
“These are the guys who are the heart of the team, and have been all season,” Solow said. “Jack is only a sophomore and certainly a big part of the future of the team.”
Captain Christian Bautista, who assisted on Fitzpatrick’s goal, will graduate this year along with Giordan Zeas, Jackson Marienfeld, Alex Gurvich, Christian Figueroa and Aditya Nugraha.