The first playoff game in the history of the South Fork boys lacrosse program this past Tuesday, June 8, didn’t go exactly the way it would have liked. The 10th-seeded Islanders trailed seventh-seeded host Connetquot, 12-1, at halftime, and wound up suffering a 17-6 loss.
While it was a bit lopsided, the loss doesn’t take anything away from the fact that South Fork had accomplished a long sought-after goal of finally breaking through and reaching the postseason, which it did after its best regular season since the student-athletes from Bridgehampton, East Hampton, Pierson, Ross School and Southampton came together to form the program in 2017. The Islanders went 9-5 in what was just their second season in the large school Division I/Class A, after being a Division II/Class B program when they first started.
And for their efforts, maybe South Fork has finally proven to Suffolk County that it’s for real. South Fork head coach Matt Babb said the team will be the recipient of this year’s Crosse Award, given to the team that most exceeded preseason expectations.
While many of the team’s coaches and players knew they were capable all along of making the playoffs this season, it’s finally nice, they said, to see others recognizing their efforts.
“It means a lot to the team and the program overall because South Fork has kind of been looked down upon the past couple of seasons,” Pierson senior and team co-captain Hudson Brindle said. “This season we showed we were dominant at times. I always knew we were capable of that type of effort, but to see it come through, it really was amazing.”
“I couldn’t be more proud of our team and what we accomplished this season — nine wins and playoffs,” Babb said. “Nobody gave us a shot at the beginning of the season, but we talked as a team about what it’s going to take to get where we wanted, and the kids responded and worked extremely hard all season long to earn that playoff spot.”
Just six days prior to Tuesday’s playoff game, South Fork went toe-to-toe with Connetquot in a game the Islanders actually led going into the second half before the Thunderbirds came back in the fourth quarter to win, 14-11. The difference between that June 2 game and the most recent one? There isn’t exactly one answer to pinpoint, Babb and Brindle said.
Inexperience of playing in the program’s first-ever playoff game was certainly a factor, both Babb and Brindle said. And then Southampton, which has 11 players on the team, had its prom Tuesday night, and there was some worry by the players that they weren’t going to be able to play the game before school officials came together and settled on having the game earlier so those student-athletes could make it. Again, both Babb and Brindle said that while that was concern the week prior, by the time game day came and everything was worked out, that wound up being a non-factor.
What Babb and Brindle basically agreed on was that the loss came down to nerves and simply being outplayed.
“I don’t want to take anything away from Connetquot, they played very well and are a very good team. We showed a week ago that we have the talent to play with them and potentially beat them,” Babb explained. “I think, with this being our first playoff game, that we played a little nervous at times. Playing too careful as to not make a mistake, which in return slows our reaction down because we’re maybe double-guessing ourselves a bit, in a lot of cases will lead to those mistakes we’re trying to avoid, such as penalties and man-down situations, amongst others.”
Brindle added that the game couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start for his team and that also was a big factor.
“With all of those high-intensity games, it comes down to the start. Whoever packs a punch first that’s usually how the game is going to go,” he said. “In that first game we stuck it to them, but that was lacking this time for whatever reason. They got a few lucky goals at the start and then they started to run away with it.
“We’re not a very big team, so when we’re running up and down the field a lot it effects us,” Brindle added. “But as much as we got down, we never gave up. I didn’t think my team hung its head. I think we had a stretch going into the third or fourth where things were coming up a bit for us, but it didn’t really work out the way we wanted things to.”
Co-captain Zac Mobius led the team in scoring in the loss with a pair of goals while Jack Freel, Cooper Brindle and Andre Aponte each scored as well. Charlie Corwin had two points with a goal and an assist and co-captain Luke Marro finished with an assist.
Brindle would up making 14 saves in his final game of his high school career that included playing football with East Hampton this past fall and Southampton in years prior, as well as playing basketball in the winter at his home school of Pierson. He plans to walk on to the men’s lacrosse team at Tufts University, Brindle said, but he was proud with the way the season went overall.
“It’s always been my goal to get to playoffs,” he said. “Last year we would have had a really good team, but obviously we didn’t get to play, so it was all or nothing this year. To be able to do it and to make some milestones along the way, it felt really nice, to be where South Fork belongs, which is in the playoffs.
“The seniors that are leaving this year have really left a recent surge of inspiring success and showing the underclassmen the right way to do things, the right way to practice, no matter what,” Brindle added. “I think it’s really prepared the team for the future but they’re all going to have to really work at it.”