Wildcats fall short in state soccer final after flawless playoff run

Shoreham-Wading River’s run to the New York State Class A championship final was flawless. Five games played, five shutout wins. They outplayed every team that faced them.

The postseason started as a revenge tour. The Wildcats matched up against Center Moriches in the first round of the playoffs and, after battling to a tie in the regular season, they knocked out the Red Devils, 2-0. Then came Sayville — the team that delivered a shocking 4-1 blow to the Wildcats early in the season — and they, too, got knocked out, 2-0. Kings Park — the seeding committee’s unanimous No. 1 seed in Suffolk County’s Class A — was next, for the county championship. Surely the 2-0 victory the Wildcats earned during the season was a fluke. Well it wasn’t; SWR beat them again, 2-0.

Being Suffolk County champions wasn’t enough for this group, though. They went on to beat Plainedge, 2-0, for the Long Island championship. This was a group of Wildcats that lost eight starters from last year’s Suffolk County championship team. They were young, but they were hungry. This team had heart, grit, determination; pick any championship-caliber trait, they had it.

Shoreham-Wading River (15-4-3) went to the state Final Four in Cortland, N.Y., representing Long Island. After defeating New Hartford in the semifinal, they were left with one last game to be crowned state champions for the second time in school history. Section I’s Rye was the only team that stood in the way of finishing on top.

The final game, however, just didn’t go their way. Rye was simply the better team on Sunday afternoon at Cortland High School. Rye held up the gold medals after winning 2-0 and the Wildcats looked on, tears streaming down a lot of faces. But it doesn’t take away from what Shoreham-Wading River accomplished this season.

They were apparently “rebuilding” from last year. Nobody thought they would contend for the Suffolk County championship again. But they did — and even took it a step further.

“I think after graduating so many players last year we didn’t know exactly what we had here this year,” SWR head coach Adrian Gilmore said. “We knew we had a good team but we didn’t know how special this group was until they started clicking in practice and the games. And then we just got hot in the playoffs, to the point that we didn’t even allow a goal until today.

“They were a very motivated group and eager to learn,” Gilmore continued. “When you’re trying to accomplish a goal with 30 kids, everyone’s gotta be on the same page. They bought into what we were selling as coaches and our system. Everyone played their part. And I think as long as everyone gives 110% and they do their job, good things happen. And they believed us and that’s what got us here.”

Senior midfielder Grace Hillis was the catalyst all season long. The Old Dominion University commit put the team on her back in the playoffs. Of the nine goals the Wildcats scored, Hillis netted five and assisted on two others — not to mention how many she saved being the defensive stalwart on the team. She was simply out for glory every single game.

“We gave everything we had until the final minute of the season,” Hillis said. “I’m so proud of what we accomplished this season. We worked so hard and we just came up short in the end. Rye was a great team. We just didn’t have it today.”

Rye also happened to be the fresher team coming into the final. They played their semifinal first and were able to rest up for the championship. Shoreham-Wading River, however, got off the field at 8 p.m. Saturday for a noon start on Sunday.

“You can tell we had tired legs at the end there,” Gilmore said. “We made a couple silly errors because of it and Rye capitalized.”

This group of seniors will undoubtedly leave a mark behind for the next class and beyond. Between Hillis, Bella Sweet, Maya Beyersdofer, Mia Gengler and Naomi Harris, the younger girls learned how to lead by example and one can only expect Shoreham-Wading River to be back in full force next year. The Wildcats will simply reload; rebuilding isn’t really in their vocabulary.