By Andrew Wroblewski
Same score, different outcome.
Claiming its first boys soccer county championship since 1996, Whitman defeated Brentwood 1-0 last night, one year after the Wildcats fell to Commack in the Class AA championship game by the very same score.
“We’ve been working this entire year to get back to this point… It feels amazing, I can’t even describe it with words,” Austin Salas, Whitman’s senior goalkeeper, who made six saves in the shutout, said after the game. “I knew it was our time.”
Whitman’s center back Sean Zagorski knew it was the Wildcats’ time too.
With four minutes remaining in the game, as second-seeded Whitman (17-1-1) fought off a frantic Brentwood attack, Zagorski shouted to his teammates: “This is our year, let’s go!”
Zagorski, like many of his teammates, didn’t want to feel another heartbreak.
“After we beat Smithtown West [in the semifinals], I changed my computer’s wallpaper to when Commack scored [in last year’s final]. I didn’t want that feeling to come back,” Zagorski, a junior and captain, said. “Brentwood is a great team and we were the two seed, but we didn’t care. We’re the best team in Suffolk.”
The Wildcats defended with a flat back four, which last night consisted of Zagorski, Eduardo Alfaro, Blake Aronson, and Isaias Noel Reyes. Playing with a lead for 60 minutes, the group was tasked with turning back a Brentwood attack that scored 59 goals this season.
“They played unbelievable, we absorbed tons of pressure,” John DiGiacomo, Wildcats’ head coach, said of his defense after the game.
On offense, Witman Hernandez again provided the spark. The senior forward scored the deciding goal in the 21st minute, his 20th goal of the season. Not only did Hernandez seal Whitman’s county title with the goal, but with 45 goals in his high school career, he also surpassed Wildcats’ coach Brian Karcz as the school’s all-time leading scorer. Karcz and assistant coach Robert Tedesco were both members of the Whitman team that won the school's previous county title in 1996.
But, in the moments following the game, Hernandez humbly downplayed the accomplishment.
“The record doesn’t mean anything. On this team, it doesn’t matter who scores. I’m just happy that we won. I’m happy for the team. We worked so hard this year,” Hernandez said.
Off a pass from Fabrizio Chamorro, Hernandez got the ball at his feet and worked some magic to break through the left side of Brentwood’s defense while fighting off a defender. In on goal, he then drew Brentwood’s goalkeeper Jason Murillo off his line, and Hernandez slipped the ball into the net with his left foot.
He plays with “heart, desire and he’s unselfish,” DiGiacomo said of Hernandez. “It’s a pleasure to have the opportunity to coach him… the team in general, we love coaching them.”
“I love going against him, it makes me better,” Zagorski said.
Salas added, “He’s amazing. He’s just so nonchalant, pulling off ridiculous moves that no one could ever dream of.”
Whitman eliminated Brentwood (18-2) for the second-straight season. Last year, the Wildcats shocked the Indians in the county’s semifinals. The Wildcats then moved on to face Commack, where they fell to the eventual state champion.
After last year’s setback, the Wildcats, some still in tears, solemnly walked over to their fans in the stands at Dowling Sports Complex in Shirley as a sign of appreciation. This year, when the final whistle blew, each and every Wildcat headed for the stands, this time sprinting and with tears accompanied by smiles.
But the run isn’t over for the Wildcats. “We want states,” Zagorski said.
The Wildcats will have the opportunity to move toward that goal at 5:30 p.m. Sunday when they face Nassau’s champion Hicksville (14-0-2) in Long Island’s Class AA final at Farmingdale State College.