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Boys Soccer: Riverhead looks for rays of sunshine

Rays of sunlight pierced through the clouds overhead during sporadic rain. Someone suggested that perhaps that was an encouraging sign that the Riverhead High School boys soccer team has a bright future ahead of it.

“I think so,” coach Evan Philcox said. “There’s some symbolism there.”

Over the course of this season, Philcox couldn’t help but feel that his team took one step forward and then another step backward. Those highs and lows — and everything in between — made for a maddening inconsistency. Riverhead’s level of play rose and fell like a volatile stock market.

“It’s not even from game to game,” Philcox said. “It’s from half to half; it’s from minute to minute.”

Now that the minutes have run out with a 4-2 loss to Half Hollow Hills East in the final game for both teams Wednesday, the Blue Waves can take a degree of solace in the sense that they’ve been more competitive in games and weren’t victimized by as many lopsided results as in the past.

Still, work remains to be done.

Riverhead’s record (2-13-1 overall and in Suffolk County League II) ended up remarkably close to the 3-12 it registered last year. Those fluctuations in the team’s play need to be ironed out.

“That’s what kind of killed us this season,” said center midfielder Chris Cortave, one of 12 Blue Waves to receive flowers as tokens of appreciation on Senior Day at the Pulaski Sports Complex in Riverhead.

True to its ways, Riverhead had some good moments as well as some bad.

“I think that’s who we are,” Philcox said. “We had moments of playing really well. We had moments where we fell asleep for three seconds and the ball’s in the back of the net.”

It was a bit of a crazy game, a rematch of a 2-2 draw between the sides on Sept. 27. Riverhead twice took one-goal leads, only to see them evaporate with three second-half goals by Steven Mariani, Zach Cunningham and Mason Arnberg.

The memorable moment of the match, unquestionably, was Mariani’s second goal of the game, a tremendous strike of a 45-yard free kick. Like a laser beam, the liner dipped ever so slightly into the upper left corner, leaving goalkeeper Owen Cassidy with no chance. That tied the score at 2-2 with 24 minutes and 31 seconds left in the second half.

“That was ridiculous,” said Philcox.

In addition to wowing the spectators, the blast lit a fire on Hills East’s offense. Just 5:28 later, Cunningham, after Tyler Zaremsky dropped the ball off for him, ripped a long-range effort as well that flew high into the net.

With 6:45 left, Arnberg blasted a shot in off Cassidy’s leg for the final score. Ethan Koval had his second assist of the day on that one.

Ian Lull set up both Riverhead goals, by Cortave and Davit Kebadze.

Kebadze had turned on a ball, firing a fierce left-footer that goalkeeper James Duffy did well to tip over the crossbar. On the ensuing corner kick by Lull, though, the ball was bouncing in the penalty area before Cortave nailed it home for his second goal of the season at 27:03.

“I was just so hyped,” Cortave said. “I don’t know. It just felt good to score in my last game.”

Koval’s quickly taken free kick sent Mariani forward for an equalizer 1:38 before halftime.

But Riverhead shot ahead again 5:54 into the second half. A cutting through ball from Lull sent Kebadze in on Duffy. After tapping the ball to the left to avoid the onrushing Duffy, Kebadze slid it in.

With 9:14 left in the second half, Riverhead had a chance to even the score at 3-3 after Kebadze drew a foul in the penalty area. But Lull’s penalty shot to the left was parried aside nicely by substitute goalkeeper Reid Feldman.

“It was low, hard in the corner and he guessed the right way,” Lull said. “There’s nothing you can do about it.”

Hills East (6-9-1, 6-9-1) picked up its second win in eight games. Riverhead closed out its season with five straight losses since a 2-0 win over Connetquot on Oct. 3.

“We fought hard, you know, it’s just unfortunate the outcome doesn’t go your way,” said Lull, who bagged a team-leading six goals this season and has 13 over two years. “We played good as a unit, we defended well, but they just eventually beat us on the scoreboard. It happens.”

Riverhead loses four senior starters and is expected to return six players next year.

“Numbers are not a problem; talent is not a problem,” Philcox said. “Cohesion is our problem. It’s a matter of us putting it together and playing for each other.”

Perhaps Cortave noticed those rays of sunshine sneaking through the clouds. Asked how next year’s team will be, he replied: “There’s plenty of talent. There’s a lot of talent.”

And, perhaps, a sunny future.

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Photo caption: Senior center midfielder Chris Cortave (closest to the camera) is congratulated by Riverhead teammates after scoring the game’s first goal. (Credit: Bob Liepa)