They’re young and undersized, but the Shoreham-Wading River Wildcats are also soccer savvy and headed to the playoffs.
For a high school boys soccer team to lose 11 players (about half of whom were starters) from last year and return with only four seniors, that can be a worrisome thing for a coach. Russ Mitchinson was concerned, and he had good cause to be.
Or at least he thought he did.
“There were some big shoes in some areas to fill, so it was a little concerning, but I got to admit, we had younger guys step right in and filled those shoes the very best that they could,” he said. “I’m excited that we do have younger guys coming up that are getting a lot of game experience this year, which makes us even more dangerous for next year.”
Forget about next year, the Wildcats are doing some damage this year. They made a huge statement Sept. 20 when they defeated defending New York State Class B champion Center Moriches, 1-0, with a second-half goal from Matteo Sweet.
“It was a really high mark on our season,” said goalkeeper Wesley Pase, who along with central defender Joe Daleo, midfielder Devan Palmer and fullback Brennan Gorman are SWR’s sole seniors.
What that result says is that SWR can play.
“Honestly, it was the best soccer I’ve seen us play this entire year,” Mitchinson said. “It’s a testament to these guys.”
So, guess who was in Shoreham Tuesday looking for sweet revenge?
You guessed it: Center Moriches.
This time, though, it was the Red Devils getting the better of SWR, 3-1, at Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field.
Coach Chris O’Brien’s Center Moriches team lost eight players from last year, but the squad is obviously still talented.
It was a feisty affair that saw five yellow cards issued. Center Moriches (9-3-2, 7-2-1 Suffolk County League VI) pressured SWR (7-5, 6-4) heavily, giving the Wildcats precious little time on the ball. “We had to move the ball quick if we were going to be able to move it at all,” said Daleo.
Mike Bartholomew struck for Center Moriches 3 minutes and 23 seconds into the match, landing a left-footed shot in off the far right goalpost following a pass from Anthony Sunderman.
That lead was doubled with 7:33 left in the first half. Jack Wicks won a ball in midfield, setting up Tommy Luongo for the score.
Center Moriches made it 3-0 on a bizarre goal. While attempting to distribute the ball to another teammate, Pase’s throw bounced off the back of an unsuspecting SWR defender. Nick DeVelvis was on the spot to capitalize with 5:57 left to play.
“It was just a miscommunication,” Pase said. “… I was trying to pass through to another guy on the outside.”
SWR responded just 26 seconds later, with Jake DePaoli scoring off a ball from Brady Cummings.
“You try not to have a long-term memory, just have a short memory,” Pase said. “You move on. A loss is a loss. It’s part of the game.”
Mitchinson said, “We shut off for a couple of seconds, little mistakes, and we paid the price.”
SWR has already secured a place in the playoffs with its young squad. It’s a team that includes two starting sophomore midfielders in Connor Guercia and Sweet and a freshman midfielder, Francisco Cortes, who comes off the bench and starts occasionally.
“We have a lot of skillful guys, fast guys on this team have really good potential,” Daleo said. “This team’s going to be good for years to come.”
Mitchinson said his team’s potential is “limitless,” but he wasn’t looking too far into the future following Tuesday’s loss. His more pressing concern was picking up a win in the next game, Thursday at Hampton Bays.
He said, “Honestly, if we get in the right mindset, starting with the next game, and we get the ball rolling, I feel bad for whoever has to play us first in the first round of the playoffs.”
Photo caption: Shoreham-Wading River junior striker James Rose scopes out his crossing options during the first half against Center Moriches. (Credit: Bob Liepa)