Wildcats come from behind against Rocky Point, advance to semifinals

Shoreham-Wading River has been a second half team all year long and they proved it again in the first round of the Section XI Suffolk County Class C playoffs. The fourth-seeded Wildcats, with revenge on their minds, knocked off No. 5 Rocky Point, 8-7 in a back-and-forth affair at Tom Cutinella Memorial Field Wednesday.

The Wildcats have made a habit of falling behind — oftentimes a recipe for disaster. But for one reason or another, this team seems to play their best when things look the worst.

“I don’t know what it is but we’re just more comfortable playing from behind,” SWR head coach Alex Fehmel said. “It sort of lights a fire under us I think – knowing we have to be aggressive and score some. They’ve gotten so good at being composed in those scenarios when a lot is expected from them.”

Rocky Point came out in complete control. They dominated the draws and possession time, created easy opportunities in attack and played lockdown defense, rarely allowing a Wildcat to get a clear look at the net. After defeating SWR during the regular season, Rocky Point looked composed and confident.

“We knew it was going to be a hard-fought battle,” Fehmel said. “We told the girls at the beginning of the game that the team that did the most little things right was going to win the game. I think we ended up doing all those little things to eventually win.”

Facing a 3-1 deficit midway through the first half, Grayce Kitchen scored a big goal for the Wildcats to stop the bleeding, but the Eagles quickly responded with another goal just one minute later.

“It was a little scary at first,” Kitchen said of the early deficit. “But once we started really working together as a team, things started to flow better.”

The defense was key, as the Wildcats focused on preventing cross-field passes, playing the correct lanes and disrupting the flow of Rocky Point’s offense, which resulting in some game-altering turnovers. 

With less than two minutes left in the first half, Abigail Beran and Charlotte Erb both scored to tie the game at 4 before Rocky Point netted another goal right before half to take the lead once again.

“Last game they kept face-guarding certain players,” Beran said. “It’s all about adjusting, which is something I think we’re really good at. Whether they’re face-guarding me or someone else trying to take them out of the game, we find ways to out-scheme them.”

GraceAnn Leonard was trying to constantly make something happen for the Wildcats. But every time she tried to come inside, she was met with double or sometimes even triple-team defense.

“I was never worried about us not being able to come back,” Leonard said. “We’ve always been a second half team. We have that sense of urgency in our mentality and never stop fighting.”

That sense of urgency was on full display as Rocky Point scored the first goal of the second half to make it 6-4. Then the Wildcats turned it on full throttle. A midfield turnover turned into Kitchen’s second goal of the game. Less than 30 seconds later, it was deja-vu all over again with another interception, followed by Beran’s third goal to tie the game at 6. Leonard then won the next draw and immediately sprinted forward, setting up Anabel Keegan who scored the go-ahead goal. This all happened in 55 seconds.

“When we get rolling it’s scary.” Leonard said. “We’ve done this all year long. It might sound crazy but we’ve done something similar before. When it clicks, it clicks.”

Leonard netted the final-dagger with 10 minutes to play. From that point on it was about maintaining possession and playing a little keep-away. The Eagles ended up scoring one goal to cut the lead to 8-7 but only touched the ball one more time for the rest of the game. 

“I don’t really like holding the ball like that usually,” Fehmel said. “Our offensive theme is to be patient and find the best shot. It just so happened that we held onto the ball the rest of the game. We had to do whatever it takes to win.”

SWR will now face No. 1 Bayport-Blue Point in the Class C semifinals on Saturday at 10 a.m.

“I think we need to come out, stay composed and be confident on Saturday,” Fehmel said. “I feel like sometimes when we’re nervous we lose our composure a little bit. We need to come out hot, confident and believe that we can do it.”