When the final whistle blew in the Suffolk County Class AA boys soccer championship game on Friday night, a swarm of maroon and gray walked down from the bleachers at Dowling College and onto the field.
They were supporters of Walt Whitman High School, but unfortunately the motion wasn’t to celebrate a win; when the Wildcats fell 1-0 to Commack, the fans rushed to their players’ sides to comfort them.
“To think that a silly game can draw so much support is exciting,” Whitman’s Head Coach John DiGiacomo said in an interview prior to the championship game.
The fans, which came out in hundreds, looked and cheered on eagerly as the Wildcats played with “heart and desire,” DiGiacomo said. Through the first half, the Wildcats pressured relentlessly. Scoring opportunities off the feet of Witman Hernandez – who led the Wildcats in scoring this season with 22 goals – and Michael Lorello, a captain, were common, but the Wildcats just couldn’t seem to find the back of the net.
“There were times where I thought we really outworked them and outplayed them,” DiGiacomo said. “But unfortunately soccer doesn’t work that way.”
For Commack (19-1-1) the goal came in the second half, the 53rd minute, off a corner kick headed in by the Cougars’ Gene Sicoli.
“We made one mistake… We didn’t attack the ball like we normally do [on corner kicks],” DiGiacomo said.
With that one mistake, the Wildcats’ season would ultimately come to an end – but that doesn’t make their playoff run, and league championship-winning season, any less impressive.
In October, Whitman (15-4-1) finished regular season play with three-straight wins to secure a League II championship. Hernandez, a junior, finished the season one-goal shy of the school’s single season scoring record – 23, held by Brian Karcz, now Whitman’s assistant coach. Lorello, also a junior, was stellar for the Wildcats with 12 goals and 10 assists – the only Whitman player to put up double-digits in both categories. Fabrizio Chamorro, a junior forward, scored 9 goals this season – including the equalizer that sparked Whitman’s upset of No. 1 Brentwood in the Suffolk County semifinal on Nov. 3.
In net, the Wildcats had 11 shutouts through 20 games thanks to the play of goalkeepers Austin Salas – a junior who made 6 saves in the championship game Friday – and senior Shane Sacks.
Youth, DiGiacomo said, is one of the Wildcats’ strengths, and it’s already got the coaching staff looking forward to next season.
“We’re proud of our guys, we’re a young team,” he said after Friday’s game. “We hope to be back here next year.”