ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | The Shoreham-Wading River Wildcats celebrate after Kerri Clark scored the lone goal in Tuesday’s playoff win over Bayport-Blue Point.
CLASS A PLAYOFFS | WILDCATS 1, PHANTOMS 0
It seemed only appropriate that two league rivals in Shoreham-Wading River and Bayport-Blue Point would meet in a playoff opener.
In the regular season, both teams defeated each other once. Both games were decided by a goal, one in overtime. In the end, the teams shared the League VI title, although Shoreham had one more win at 9-3, while Bayport was 8-2-2.
The teams met once more Tuesday afternoon in the first round of the Class A playoffs with a trip to the semifinals against Sayville on the line.
“We definitely wanted to beat Bayport to show who was the true champion,” said Shoreham senior Kerri Clark.
In a tightly contested match that showed just how close the two teams are, the fifth-seeded Wildcats emerged victorious thanks to a Clark goal and stellar defensive work anchored by goalkeeper Kelly Wynkoop.
The Wildcats’ 1-0 victory at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue sends them into Friday’s semifinal against top-seeded Sayville. After missing the postseason a year ago, the Wildcats (11-3) are now one win away from returning to the county finals for the first time since 2006.
“It’s the best feeling in the world, especially as a senior,” said Clark, a four-year varsity player.
In a game where scoring opportunities were hard to come by, Clark delivered the game’s lone goal in the 44th minute. Freshman Alex Kuhnle carried the ball into the Bayport (10-4-3) end up the right sideline. Kuhnle sent a pass to sophomore Megan Kelly, who delivered the crossing feed in front of the goal.
Bayport goalkeeper Erica Friel slid toward Kelly, who flicked the ball between a defender and Friel. Clark was charging up the middle of the field, and while fighting off a defender, knocked the ball into the goal from a few yards out.
“I knew [Kelly] was going to cross it to me,” Clark said. “But the girl was on me so I had to kind of push through her. And I just kicked the ball into the net.”
That Clark came through with the big goal was no surprise to coach Adrian Gilmore.
“She’s one of those kids that any time there’s a big opportunity or I need a goal, she seems to come through,” Gilmore said.
Clark already had an overtime winner on her resume from this season in a crucial 1-0 win over Miller Place Oct. 10. She also scored the Wildcats’ second goal in another big win over Center Moriches Oct. 2.
It was a tense 34 minutes for the Wildcats after Clark’s goal.
“That felt like the longest half of my life,” Clark said.
The Phantoms strung together five corner kicks after the goal. In the first half, they didn’t have any. Clark said keeping the Phantoms out of corner kicks was something the team focused on coming into the game.
“They’re definitely good in the air, so we wanted to keep them away from that,” she said.
On one kick with just under 14 minutes left, the ball was headed out to freshman Natalia Sandor, who drilled a shot from just outside the 18. Wynkoop got a piece of it and the ball deflected off the crossbar and out of bounds for another corner kick.
The Wildcats survived each time.
Shoreham notched its 10th shutout of the season.
“Bayport’s such an offensive team and when they get the ball, they’re dangerous,” Gilmore said.
Wynkoop came up with a few big saves and was aggressive coming out of the net to make a play before Bayport had a chance to get something going. Gilmore said Wynkoop controls the back, something she’s gotten better at over the past two years.
“We kept talking, if you’re going to be the goalie, you have to control the game,” Gilmore said. “I think she’s done a nice job of that this year.”
Late in the first half the Wildcats dodged a great scoring chance from Bayport when the Phantoms crossed the ball from deep in the left corner to the front of the net. The ball ended up behind Wynkoop, who was face down on the turf, and Shoreham defender Theresa Bender was there to clear the ball out.
A few minutes later when the players came to the sideline for halftime, Wynkoop went over to hug Bender for having her back.
“The defense was unbelievable this year,” Gilmore said.
It will need to be once again Friday to take down another rival in Sayville.