By Gavin Menu; photography by Michael Heller
Sam Warne has tasted victory before, but never like this. He and his Pierson teammates knew all too well about the shock of coming up short, which, in part, is why this year has been so different.
Warne, a senior midfielder whose team has fallen short of going upstate for three consecutive seasons, scored two goals including the game-winner late in the second half on Saturday as the Pierson/Bridgehampton boys soccer team knocked off S.S. Seward, 3-1, at Diamond in the Pines park in Coram in the Class C Southeast Regional final.
For the first time in program history, the Whalers (17-1-1) advanced in to the state final four and will play a Class C semifinal on Saturday against either Sauquoit Valley (Section III) or Lansing (Section IV) at Middletown High School at 4 p.m.
The winner will play for a state championship on Sunday at 10:30 a.m.
“I’ve been dreaming about this since I was younger,” said Warne, who has been on varsity since his freshman season. “We had heartbreak here from Southold two years in a row, and then last year another heartbreak. Just getting up there means so much.”
It was S.S. Seward who ended Pierson’s season last year on the same field at Diamond in the Pines and at the same level of the state tournament. After winning its second straight Suffolk County championships, Pierson returned to Diamond in the Pines and struck first on Saturday, with Warne blasting his 17th goal of the season off his left foot from 30 yards out with 21:40 remaining in the first half.
Pierson was dominating the action but Seward’s Jack Gardiner shocked Pierson goalie Will Martin with a bicycle kick goal four minutes later.
The game went back-and-forth from there, just as it had a year ago when the Spartans sent the Whalers home in heartbreak after they tied the game with three seconds left in regulation and won two minutes into the second overtime.
With the game tied late in the second half, Warne received a beautiful through ball from Luis Padilla and softly headed the ball past a pair of defenders draped on his side and over the hands of Seward goalie Bobby Verblaauw with 5:35 remaining.
“The goalie was making an amazing attempt to get that. he actually got a part of my face right there,” Warne described later. “Everyone was collapsing and I just got my head on it.”
Pierson senior Jorge Alvarado provided the insurance goal off an assist from Grady Burton with 1:49 remaining and the celebration was on.
“The guys had been before and they knew what it was going to take,” head coach Peter Solow said. “We have the potential to be a pretty dangerous team because if you look at Jorge, and you look at Grady, and you look at Luis, there’s a lot of people who can score goals for us so it doesn’t necessarily come from one guy. It comes from a variety of people.”
Solow told his players before the last two elimination games that win or lose, he hoped his players could leave the game knowing they had left everything on the field. Now the team’s seniors have a chance to be the first boys soccer players ever from Pierson to end their careers with a victory, and a state championship.
“My last game wasn’t a positive memory,” Solow said on Saturday. “I still remember from all those years ago, we’re talking 1970, I still remember that game and there isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t think about it. So I want these guys to remember the good stuff. What it feels like to be a team, what it feels like to go out and give 100 percent.”