The Pierson/Bridgehampton’s boys soccer team’s quest for a New York State Class C title came to a halt on Saturday when the Whalers lost, 2-1, to Alexander Hamilton in the Regional Final at Valhalla High School.
It was clear from the onset of the game that both teams were evenly matched. Hamilton (Section I-Westchester) opened the scoring just over 20 minutes into the game when senior co-captain Tiwa Soetan beat Pierson defenders to the ball that was crossed into the box. Soetan, who was clearly a dangerous player for the Red Raiders, then beat Pierson junior goalie Gavin Gilbride to make it 1-0, which was the score at halftime.
The Whalers took things over in the second half and dictated a lot of the play. Finally, with 5:12 remaining in regulation, Bridgehampton sophomore Helio Paucer took control of the ball at the top of the box, managed to avoid a pair of Hamilton defenders and found senior co-captain Brandon Winenga on the outside. Paucer’s play seemed to really open things up for the Whalers and Winenga sent a cross into the box that junior Halsey Burton was able to get his left foot on and direct into the goal to tie the game at 1-1 and eventually force overtime.
Gilbride kept Pierson in it with a few key saves and aggressive plays in the box that snuffed out any potential Hamilton chances. But with two minutes remaining in the first golden goal 15-minute overtime, Soetan was able to settle a 50/50 ball just outside the box between a pair of Pierson defenders, took on Gilbride one-on-one, and beat him once again with a nice shot into the bottom left hand corner, giving Hamilton the 2-1 victory and a trip to states.
Because of a renovation at the school to install new playing fields, Hamilton hadn’t played a single home game all season. But playing at Valhalla was essentially a home game for the Raiders since its school is only 15 minutes away. Their only loss did come at Valhalla earlier this season.
Hamilton will play Cooperstown (Section III-Central New York) in the state semifinal at Middletown High School this Saturday, November 13. The winner of that game will take on the winner of Maple Grove (Section VI-Western New York)/Maple Hill (Section II-Capital District) in the finals the following day.
Pierson head coach Peter Solow — who announced after the game that it would be his last, as he’s retiring from coaching — said he could not have been more proud of the way his team played on Saturday, especially in the second half when it outplayed Hamilton.
“This game could have gone either way,” he said. “One of the things that is cruel when you get to this level of playoffs is that’s the way it is, it could have gone either way. Commend [Hamilton] because they played a great game, they were good, but I’ve said this before, we can play with anybody. These guys can play with anybody. All of them did a great job.”
The players were understandably upset following the hard-fought loss. Both Solow and Gilbride said they were aware of Soetan coming into the game and tried to contain him as best they could.
“He was a great player,” Gilbride said. “He got past a few of our guys, went one-on-one with him and he made a great play.
“I’m proud of them,” he added about his teammates. “They worked hard all game, they were coming out 100 percent. They were down, but we came back and we were able to get that goal with six minutes left. It was huge. We were fired up. We knew we were the underdogs in this game. We were the underdogs last game, but we love that, we love being the underdogs. And then the fact that we were able to match them, a team as good as Alexander Hamilton, I’m truly proud to be able to play with these guys. Couldn’t ask for a better team, for a better season.”
Gilbride will be one of many returning players next season as the team boasts a number of current juniors. Winenga, who had the assist on the game-tying goal, will be one of nine graduating players this June who will not be returning, along with fellow senior co-captain Erik Guanga-Soliz, Josue Balladares, Samuel Gonzalez, Daniel Martinez, Jake Idrova, Nick Gomez, Brayan Garzon and Bridgehampton’s Victor Paredes.
“I’m proud of my boys,” Winenga said. “The fact that we made it this far, the fact that we had to go up against one of the toughest teams on Long Island, one of the toughest teams in the state just to make it this far, I’m proud of my boys. It’s something they can use for motivation for next year. Unfortunately, my last year I couldn’t see states, but it’s a blessing to play with these guys. They’re truly my family.
“Overall it was a great season,” Guanga-Soliz said. “None of us thought that we were going to make it to the regional championship, but I wouldn’t have done it with anyone else other than these guys right here. I grew up with some of these guys, I’ve known them since elementary school. It’s just a blessing to play with this group of guys. Obviously, we wanted to come out with a win, we came this far. I’m really proud to call myself a Whaler today.”
After 12 years of coaching varsity boys soccer, Solow has decided to call it a coaching career, which includes over three decades of coaching Sag Harbor youth in various sports, both boys and girls. Solow, an art teacher in the Sag Harbor School District, called it “a hell of a way to go out.”
“Here’s the thing about these guys, to go out and have them play better at the end of the season, because we were up and down all season long, is a terrific thing and you couldn’t ask for more than that,” he said. “That’s what’s important, the fact they played so well the last two games were really exceptional.”
The players said Solow will be missed.
“He started his coaching career actually coaching my older brother, Tyler,” Gilbride explained. “To be able to have him finish with another Gilbride, I couldn’t be more proud of him and I couldn’t ask for a better coach my first season.
“I’ve been with the program for several years and he’s been my coach for all my life here at Pierson,” Guanga-Soliz said. “Once again, it’s an honor to be a player of his. He’s a great coach. I wish him the best, and he’s accomplished so much so he should get noticed for that.”