By Benito Vila
If “all’s well that ends well”, then what are people to do about things that end poorly?
For the Pierson field hockey team, the tears came on as soon as the ball hit the bottom of the box Saturday evening, Port Jefferson taking the Suffolk County Class C title 1-0 in a double-overtime thriller played at Patchogue-Medford High School.
For the 60-some Pierson fans in the stands, there was a dull and hollow feeling. All the effort, emotion, teamwork and tenacious play put in by the Lady Whalers wasting away so quickly after 73 minutes of dead-even competition.
It seemed so cruel somehow, but someone had to win and someone had to lose. Pierson had had its chances, the midfielders and forwards controlling the ball for much of the match and the defense making stop after stop.
But the sudden and somewhat shocking loss didn’t stop the Whaler faithful from cheering. Out of the bleachers came kind words of encouragement in and amongst the applause, the Lady Whalers hearing, “Good job, girls” and “Walk away proud, Pierson.”
It seemed such a perfect day Saturday. The temperature, the sky, the light, the breeze, the easy tempo in town; it was without a doubt one of those ten best days of the year Al Roker goes on about.
It was also a great day for field hockey, despite the academic realities SATs, the end of the first grading period and college application deadlines. And the Lady Whalers and their faithful fans were ready to go.
Setting off just after lunch, the team was psyched-up to put away the Lady Royals, Port Jeff having run off with last year’s title with a 1-0 win in overtime and having pulled out of Mashashimuet Park with a 2-0 non-league win earlier this season.
That was all the motivation the Lady Whalers needed. But in case that wasn’t enough, team parents, led by Missie Mahoney, organized a spectator bus, courtesy of the Sag Harbor Fire Department, when the school district was unable to provide one of its own.
Word went out about the bus by every personal communication device imaginable and a packed-in party of primarily sophomores, juniors and seniors pulled away from Pierson at 2:30 p.m., ready to make some noise. By the time that contingent arrived in Patchogue, red warrior face paint adorned much of the rolling WhalerNation.
Finding the ladies practicing, the Pierson fans watched from a distance, spirits light and hopeful among those wearing red and black. When the Class B game ended, Shoreham-Wading River outscoring Miller Place 2-0 for the Class B title, the team and spectators packed up to go in, smiles and “good luck” creating a positive energy.
Once inside, the Pierson side began to make itself heard even before the game started. Words of encouragement were constant as the Lady Whalers prepped on the field and then were introduced.
That cheering was so constant when the game started that a Port Jeff fan scolded his side for sitting quietly, loudly saying, “Why can’t you be more like them?”
Back and Forth
The Lady Whalers came out ready and kept the ball moving upfield for most of the first half. Five Port Jeff corners and long runs deep into the Pierson side late were turned away by goalie Christy Deery and Jessica Warne, Kasey Gilbride and Sam James in front of her.
Meanwhile, Aly Bori, Abby Gawronski and Alexa Lantiere were leading the Lady Whalers into the Port Jeff side, feeding the ball forward to Nicole Dorego, Sarah Barrett, Lindsay Warne and Sariah Cafiero.
The best Pierson scoring opportunities came with seven minutes and three minutes remaining in the half, but a missed crossing pass thwarted the first bid and a hesitation on a one-on-one break saw the second one go for naught.
After the half, the Lady Whalers immediately took the ball upfield, a shot coming out of a scramble in front of the Port Jeff box. The ball seemed to go past the goalie a point being indicated by one of the officials. After some discussion with the other official, the goal was waved off, Pierson being awarded a penalty stroke.
Stepping up to shoot from seven yards out, Lindsay Warne had all the Whaler faithful up and cheering. Her shot, though, went wide, Port Jeff regaining possession and taking the ball deep into the Pierson side.
That Lady Royal run was cut off by Jessica Warne, who sent the ball back into the midfield only to see it come back as Port Jeff cut off the Lady Whaler counter. In that possession, the Port Jeff attack moved the ball into the box and beat Deery but Cafiero came in to cut off the shot and keep the contest scoreless.
That play sent up a huge roar from the Pierson fans and sparked a series of deep drives into the Port Jeff side, Lantiere and Cafiero coming close to breaking the tie more than once. With both sides working furiously as the clock wound down, the match finished regulation scoreless, overtime and “sudden death” or “sudden victory” assuredly coming to one side or the other.
Overtime in field hockey calls for each team to take off four players, leaving the match to be resolved in a seven-on-seven contest. In the first 10-minute period, the ball stayed mostly at mid-field, the two teams playing to a draw despite an occasional foray downfield.
The second overtime continued much the same way, before a Port Jeff charge into the Pierson circle with seven minutes remaining ended with the ball becoming lodged under Deery’s gear. That trapping of the ball is illegal, the officials stopping the match and awarding the Lady Royals a penalty stroke.
Stepping in for Port Jeff was Amber Bruckner, a tall forward who took a moment to stretch yoga-like while Deery set herself to defend the Pierson goal. On the official’s whistle, Bruckner rocketed a shot to Deery’s left that made the hard sound no one in the WhalerNation wanted to hear.
The seven Lady Whalers on the field took it hard, gathering and consoling each other as the Lady Royals ran in to congratulate Bruckner.
Lady Whaler coach Shannon Judge brought her team together on the field while the other side was taking pictures. Even in defeat, Coach Judge managed to find a way to make her girls laugh and stay together, though it was clear the outcome had broken hearts and brought on bleary eyes.
In describing what hurt the most, Bori, a senior captain said, “Losing to a team that way, twice, and realizing that this is the last time I will wear the Lady Whaler uniform.”
Knowing she and her teammates had outplayed their opposition didn’t help either in accepting the outcome. “We should have had that goal, not a stroke. It was a terrible call. I was right on the ball.”
Still, in talking about and praising her teammate and classmate Deery, Bori added, “It’s hard to be in that situation one-on-one. It’s a bad place. She played such an amazing game but there was no way she could have blocked that shot. To me, she’s still our MVP.”
Please pick-up the Express on Thursday to read Coach Judge’s comments on the game and the season.