It was a gift from the heavens, and that’s not a reference to the on-and-off rain.
Shoreham-Wading River was staring playoff elimination in the face and was a mere 7 minutes and 22 seconds from seeing its season come to an end. Trailing Harborfields, 1-0, in the Suffolk County Class A girls soccer final, SWR was granted a late reprieve. A free kick by SWR’s Gianna Cacciola was knocked around the penalty area as if it was in a giant pinball machine. And then, suddenly, Ashley Borriello found the ball at her feet. “All I know is the ball is right in front of me,” she said. She obligingly knocked it in for the equalizer.
Fortunes can turn quickly in a tight game. Just 2:14 later, Borriello came to SWR’s rescue again, this time with a game-winning header that lifted the Wildcats to a dramatic 2-1 triumph in North Babylon and their third county championship in six years.
“I figured it would be her, honestly, today,” Elizabeth Shields, who assisted on the game-winner, said of Borriello, SWR’s hero of the day. “It’s always Ashley. She finds a way to put it in the back of the net, and that’s her job as a forward, and she does it really well. So, she just came out and did her job in the second half. I’m so proud of my little girl.”
The winning goal was the product of a foul 52 yards away from the Harborfields goal. Shields took the free kick.
“I put the ball down and got so nervous because I just knew that that was kind of it,” Shields told reporters. “I figured there was going to be minimal fouls the rest of the game, so every foul at that point was counting for a whole lot, and my goal was just to hit somebody at the back post and hoping it went in, and Ashley just happened to be there.”
Borriello, a junior striker who might be 5-6, barely got her head to the ball with her back to the goal, but just enough for it to skim off her and inside the right post.
“It was so exciting, and I think it was like almost shocking in a way for me,” she said. “It actually went in.”
Borriello (15 goals, one assist this year) may have been the only person on her team to be surprised that she was the one who ultimately made the difference in crunch time.
“She’s lightning fast,” SWR coach Adrian Gilmore said. “She’s got a nose [for] the goal. She doesn’t care who scores. She just wants the ball in the back of the net, with a win.”
Second-seeded SWR (14-2-2) looked as if it might be the latest upset victim of No. 8 Harborfields (10-6-2), which had toppled No. 5 Eastport-South Manor and No. 1 Half Hollow Hills West in the previous two rounds.
For the first time this year, SWR conceded a first-half goal. It came with 1:45 left in an otherwise nondescript first half. Both teams were having trouble settling into a possession game and passing rhythm on the new turf field at North Babylon High School. And then Katie Davis met a picture-perfect left-wing cross from Brooke Buda with a picture-perfect header that flew inside the far left goalpost, leaving goalkeeper Alison Devall with no chance. It was the junior’s 11th goal of the year.
Gilmore and assistant coach Brian Ferguson had a halftime talk with the Wildcats. Gilmore recalled: “We kind of said: ‘It’s your game. You dictate it. We’ve kind of given you all the tools. You need to put the ball in the back of the net.’ So I was proud of them for doing that.”
Down a goal, the Wildcats were determined not to get down. They remained determined and focused.
“We’ve came back before and we know we can score goals,” Devall said. “We had 40 more minutes left, and I think being optimistic was the most important part of that, and we did a good job of that, and even if it takes almost 90 minutes to get comfortable, the last five minutes is what matters most and it’s what wins games.”
Not playing the ball to feet can lead to defeat. SWR picked up its game and, as the clock wound down, pushed forward and amped up the pressure on the Tornadoes. “When we’re down, we always know how to get back up,” said SWR midfielder Lakin Ciampo.
Devall made three of her five saves in the final few minutes, including Taylor Sammis’ 44-yard free kick seconds before the end. “I know that the skip was a little scary,” Devall said, “… it just came right to me, and it couldn’t have worked out better that last play.”
Devall added: “I think that we just kept working and we stayed confident and we didn’t give up literally to the last second, and sometimes that’s what it takes. I had confidence in every single person on the field.”
SWR had beaten Harborfields, 3-1, in overtime during the regular season. Gilmore said the Wildcats knew “Harborfields is a great team.”
Much can be said for the Wildcats, too.
“They’re resilient,” Gilmore said of her players. “That second half, the last 10 minutes, they really worked hard. They covered for each other. They battled.”
And they persevered. SWR will bid for its first Long Island title Saturday when it faces MacArthur or South Side at Berner Middle School in East Massapequa at 11 a.m.
Shields said, “We have a good run going, and I don’t think it’s going to stop.”
Photo caption: From left, Harborfields’ Katie Davis, Shoreham-Wading River’s Graceann Leonard, Lakin Ciampo, Lydia Radonavitch and Ashley Borriello and Harborfields’ Ruby Sember react after Borriello’s second goal, with 5:08 left to play. (Credit: Daniel De Mato)