Two-Decade Drought Ends and Whalers are Champions
By Brett Mauser
Saturday’s Suffolk County Class C Championship game mirrored the Pierson boys soccer team’s pursuit of a county title over the last two decades. The team had its chances and squandered them, kept fighting, and was ultimately met with more opportunities.
It was only a matter of time, and at long last, the Whalers broke through.
Facing Southold with the county title on the line for the fourth consecutive year, Pierson was not to be denied this time. After nearly 87 scoreless minutes, sophomore Borys Zasada slipped past the Settlers defense, controlled a through ball from Luis Padilla and calmly deposited it inside the left post to knock off their longtime nemesis, 1-0, at Diamond in the Pines in Coram.
It marked the Whalers’ first county championship since winning back-to-back Class D titles in 1994 and 1995. The Whalers hadn’t won a Class C crown since 1934. Having ended the drought, they now move on to face Section IX champion, SS Seward, on Tuesday, November 1, back at Diamond in the Pines at 2 p.m. The Spartans upended Millbrook, 3-2 in their final on October 26.
“This means a lot to us,” Zasada said. “It means that anyone can do it; no matter if you’re tall, short, big or slow, you can do it if you just try.”
“I’m in a daze,” said Pierson head coach Peter Solow. “I’m used to coming here and going through this and then having our players on the field afterward in tears.
“I’m really happy for the guys,” he added. “I’m really happy for [senior] Charlie [Pintado] because he’s been doing this for a long time. This has been the best week of practice we’ve had all season long, and for the first time, we were all healthy and doing everything we needed to in order to get ready for this game.”
There was no measure for the anguish in years past, beyond the number of chances the Whalers (10-6) had. They fell 5-2 in 2013, 1-0 in overtime the next year and 2-0 a season ago, all at the hands of the Settlers. Those showdowns, like Saturday’s, “could have gone either way,” according to Solow, which was evident late with the teams locked in a scoreless tie.
Southold ramped up its attack in the waning moments of the game, and had a direct kick outside the Pierson box with four minutes to go. Once that was turned away, the Whalers went on the offensive. They cleared the ball and Padilla threaded the needle to find Zasada in space, with only the goalie to beat.
The sophomore, who netted four goals this fall during his first varsity season, didn’t wilt with the county title on his foot, scooting the ball past a sprawling Dylan Clausen of Southold with just 3:14 remaining.
“I heard someone say ‘five minutes left’ and I said ‘This is it. I have to score. There are no other options,’” Zasada said. “I tried as hard as I could and scored.”
Southold mounted one last charge with just over a minute left, but Pierson’s Kevin Feliciano corralled a modest attempt off a Settler centering pass. When the whistle sounded, Zasada dropped to his knees near midfield and was mobbed by his teammates.
Despite the victory — and the history — the Whalers had the edge entering the day, having defeated Southold by 2-1 and 3-2 counts during the regular season. Early on, Southold employed a familiar high defensive line, which yielded five offside penalties and limited scoring opportunities for Pierson. The Settlers (6-11) did not muster much more, but nearly went ahead late, instead sending a golden opportunity over the crossbar 20 seconds before halftime.
The forwards began timing their runs more accurately after intermission. Zasada and Sam Warne had promising opportunities in the opening 10 minutes, and Padilla and Mats Grebenstein each put pressure on Clausen in net. Pierson’s persistence eventually paid off.
“Southold has gotten us with the offsides trap every year at this place,” Pintado said. “Their coach did a good job of teaching them how to do it. It frustrated us and we were offsides multiple times during the game, but we finally got one at the end. It means a lot to win this game as a senior.”