Girls Soccer: Bellport’s Martino kicks Riverhead out of playoff picture

Tim Page knew he had to try something different. The last time his Riverhead High School girls soccer team played the Bellport Clippers, the Blue Waves ended up on the short end of a 7-1 scoreline.

So, in an attempt to avoid a repeat of that result, the Riverhead coach went with a defensive 5-4-1 formation in the rematch on Monday at Riverhead High School. The single forward, by the way, was Carolyn Carrera, who usually tries to prevent goals as a goalkeeper rather than score them as a forward. In her place, Amanda Gallo made her first varsity start in goal.

The plan wasn’t a bad one. It almost worked.

Gallo played a super game, stopping one shot after another, but Bellport’s ability won out in the end. Jennifer Martino scored two goals and assisted on another as Bellport cruised, 3-0, in the Suffolk County League IV game.

“I was hoping they were looking past us and we might catch them off-guard,” said Page, whose team was eliminated from playoff contention with the loss. “It didn’t work out that way.”

If nothing else, the Blue Waves received a reminder that they have two good goalkeepers in Carrera, a freshman, and Gallo, a junior. Gallo denied the Clippers time and again with some fine stops. She was credited with 24 saves.

“Boy, Amanda made a couple of nice high stops,” Page said. “She showed me she can play.”

But not even Gallo’s heroics were enough to stop Martino from helping Bellport (6-8, 5-5) to its third straight victory, which pulled the Clippers to within one win of clinching a playoff berth. Bellport will close out its regular season with games against the West Babylon Eagles on Oct. 25 and the North Babylon Bulldogs on Oct. 27. Last year Bellport lost to the West Islip Lions in the Suffolk Class AA quarterfinals, and the Clippers want to return to the postseason.

“It’s so important to us,” said Martino, who is Bellport’s leading scorer with seven goals and five assists this season. “We all want this so bad. Plus, being a senior, your last year, you want to make the playoffs. You want to make a statement for your team, your school and everything.”

Bellport’s progress was slowed a bit by injuries earlier in the season, but things seem to be coming around for the Clippers.

“We have a lot of individual talent. I think we just need to put everything together,” said Martino, one of only four seniors on a team loaded with underclassmen. “We had a little bit of a slump in the beginning of the season, and it’s starting to pick up.”

Bellport Coach Tony Esposito said, “Their main goal is to get in the dance.” He added: “We’ve been plagued with some injuries, but we have everybody back healthy for the most part. When we have a healthy crew, we can be very dangerous.”

As the Blue Waves (3-7, 2-7) have found.

Bellport took the lead in the 18th minute. Martino caught up to a bouncing ball laid forward by Haley Gibbons, took one touch with her left foot and then shot with her right foot into the left side of the net.

Martino had a foot in the second goal in the second half. She wove through a trio of Riverhead players before centering for a wide-open Caitlyn Pabst. Pabst made no mistake directing her first-time effort into the goal.

Bellport’s heavy pressure on the Riverhead defense paid off with a third goal. Elena Fountis headed a ball across the goalmouth where Martino, after one bounce, struck a lethal left-footed volley.

Martino, an all-league player last year who looks destined to play at the collegiate level, is a talent.

“She’s very tenacious out there,” Esposito said. “She works very hard all the time. She’s a typical nose-to-the-goal type of goal scorer. She’s always looking to plunk the ball in the back of the net.”

Bellport was unfortunate not to have scored more goals on Monday, but Gallo frustrated many of those efforts.

Riverhead was dropped down from League III to League IV this year, but the competition has remained stiff. “It doesn’t seem like it got any easier,” Page said. “There are some powerful teams out there. I tip my hat to all of them.”

“I feel like we’re getting stronger,” Riverhead stopper Savannah Smith said. “The season’s been pretty rough. I mean, we’re not doing as well as we hoped, but everyone’s pulling together. Really, I think we just need more spirit and more confidence because we have a great group of girls.”

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