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Girls Soccer: SWR drops battle of D-II front-runners

It takes a very good high school girls soccer team to beat a very good high school girls soccer team like Shoreham-Wading River.

East Islip was the better team Monday evening in a showdown between Suffolk County Division II’s top two squads.

Mikala Horton’s team-leading fifth goal of the season was all that separated the teams on the scoreboard for a 1-0 East Islip victory, but it was well-deserved. East Islip exhibited nice ball movement, stroking precise passes on the field turf at Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field in Shoreham. The Redmen outshot Shoreham, 14-4, and goalkeeper Izzy Kelly needed to make only one save for the shutout.

It was Shoreham’s first regular-season loss since Sept. 26, 2019, when the Wildcats lost to Half Hollow Hills West, 2-1.

Was Monday’s contest a big game?

Well, all one had to do was watch the reactions of the East Islip players when the final horn sounded. Coach Ben Diallo’s players were exultant, raising their arms triumphantly and hugging each other.

It was a big test for both sides.

“They’re definitely a very good team and we knew we had to be ready to face them, so we definitely all viewed it as a big game, and we were all ready to play well and we were ready to play hard, and we, you know, had the expectation that going in that they were going to be good — and they were,” said Shoreham sweeper Jessica Nastasi.

The facts and figures pointed to a promising match. East Islip was the preseason No. 1 seed and Shoreham was No. 4. Entering the match, East Islip sat in second place with a 5-0-1 record, 4-0 in the division with 130.200 power-rating points. Shoreham held the top spot with a 5-0 record, overall and in the division, with 139.000 points. East Islip had outscored opponents, 17-3, with three shutouts. Shoreham had scored 16 goals and allowed only one, with four shutouts.

Monday’s match had a playoff feel to it, and Shoreham’s Bella Sweet, a sophomore midfielder, felt it.

Shoreham right back Nicolette Joannou takes a page from the Radio City Rockettes to control the ball. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)

“I was very nervous,” she said. “I knew that they were gonna be [one of] the top teams. Yeah, it was a little scary. They were the best team we’ve played so far. They moved the ball a lot better than any other team.”

It didn’t help Shoreham’s cause that it was without three regular starters because of injuries: defenders Alexa Constant and Grace Hillis and defender/midfielder Annie Sheehan.

East Islip had nothing to show for its efforts until the onrushing Horton met a splendid left-wing service from Kate Alexander and rammed the ball in 7 minutes, 29 seconds into the second half.

Dylann Trahey nearly put East Islip ahead in the first half with an acrobatic touch on a deflected ball from Julianna Violi, but it sailed harmlessly over the goal.

The quick Redmen nearly doubled their lead in the 66th minute. Kayla Kniff slammed a shot off the crossbar and Grace Williamson followed up on the rebound, sending it high.

Shoreham’s best scoring chance came with less than four minutes left. A long ball from Nicolette Joannou found GraceAnn Leonard, who had a clear shot at goal, but powered a right-footed blast over the crossbar.

“I think it was a wake-up call for our team,” Joannou said of the loss. “It really just opened our eyes, see what we had to work on and what we should just fix for next time and it really just gave us some motivation for the next time we’re going to play them.”

Shoreham, two years removed from its only state championship, lost to Rocky Point in a penalty-kick shootout this past spring in a Suffolk Class A quarterfinal. The Wildcats return 13 players from that spring team.

“I think we’re definitely something special,” Nastasi said. “Yes, we are a young team, but we do have a lot of talent and we all work really hard.”

Adrian Gilmore, who has a 130-30-11 career record since becoming Shoreham’s coach in 2011, said she’s very proud of her players. “We have a lot of returning players, but a lot of new starters, if that makes sense,” she said, “and we switch some people around a little bit, and with injuries we definitely have some kids that weren’t even on varsity last year starting in key positions for us, so that’s always, you know, exciting and nerve-racking.”

East Islip and Shoreham aren’t scheduled to face each other again this fall — yet. Who knows what the playoffs will bring?

“Definitely, we’ll see them,” Gilmore said. “Hopefully, probably in the county championship.”