Portland's Jack DeToro and East Hampton's Baden Plante fight for a loose ball as (P)#5 Caiden Hettrcik-Rivera, (P)#12 Simon Kandeke, and (EH)#8 Paul Pignatella look on.
After 80 minutes of intense, often physical soccer, the boys’ soccer teams at Portland and East Hampton finished in a scoreless tie.
The visiting Highlanders, who entered EHHS with a record of 8-3-2, ran into a motivated Bellringers squad desperate for a win to keep their postseason hopes alive
Despite being outshot, Portland still managed to come away with a draw.
Senior goalie Zack Doncet was outstanding, stopping every shot he faced, including several over the first 10 minutes and a flurry during a hectic final 10 minutes.
“It was a tough game, they had to win this game. I just had to keep my head in the game. These are always tough, it’s a rivalry game,” said Doncet, who praised the guys in front of him. “I love my defense. Credit to them for the shutout. They help me so much it’s incredible.”
Portland head coach Michael Searson liked his keeper’s composure, “Zack had always been the type of keeper that you never worry about his reaction time. He knows how to make saves. Coming into this year, we had talked about him owning the box and he’s not afraid to go out and make that play. Tonight was the type of night when we needed him to make plays and he delivered.”
Doncet made three outstanding saves in the final 8:10 of action.
The first when East Hampton’s Oren Wilson set up Brennan Johnson with a header in front of the net that Doncet covered up.
He then made a spectacular save with 4:59 remaining in regulation after Ephraim Butson placed a straight away kick towards the cross bar, which Doncet jumped and tipped away.
Two minutes later, he thwarted the final threat when he swatted away Ethan Marshall’s attempt.
East Hampton’s coach Rocco Christiana was impressed with his team’s fight, but disappointed they couldn’t finish.
“I think we are playing the best soccer we’ve played all season and I think our quality of soccer is second to none right now. We’re just not putting it in the back of the net,” said Christiana. “We’re healthy, we have quality players. We outshot them 4 to 1 and just couldn’t finish.”
Bellringers’ goalie Drew DiStefano was equally impressive as his counterpart, making a handful of saves. His final save came with 1:39 left in regulation when he scooped up a shot attempt from Portland’s senior captain Caiden Hettrick-Rivera.
“Drew has been really solid back there, he’s very vocal. He’s doing a good job controlling his defense and controlling the game,” added Christiana.
DiStefano is captaining the team with Paul Pignatella, who is pacing the offensive tempo for the Bellringers.
“Paulie is dangerous. Every coach watches and plans for him and he opens up opportunities for us,” stated Christiana. “Every player can play each position on the field and that’s how we coach them. It confuses other teams.”
Portland entered the game having already qualified for postseason play and Searson said the main goal was to have his team healthy for the tournaments, adding that his defense did a good job adjusting to East Hampton’s aggressive approach.
“I’m proud of the way they responded. They have been in these moments and in high school soccer we don’t always come out with the right kind of intensity. East Hampton did to their credit, they were working the ball well and it’s one of those games, especially early on, where we had to sit back and let the game come to us. Defensively they were splitting us a little bit in the back and Evan [Johnson], Ryan [Clarke], Cooper [Beck], and Cole [Bates] did a good job at figuring it out.”
Hettrick-Rivera is one of Searson’s two captains, leading the way with fellow senior Brady Talerico who suffered a hamstring injury in the game, which kept him out of most of the second half.
“They’ve been phenomenal with the leadership they’ve shown,” Searson said of his captains, “Caiden has been one of the better players in the conference and Brady has found his stride at putting the ball in the back of the net.”
He added, “Aside from our six seniors, we have a young team. Hopefully we look back on this game and learn from this come November.”
Following back-to-back losses to finish the regular season, Searson’s Highlanders finished the regular season with a record of 8-5-2 and now turn their attention to the Shoreline Conference Tournament.
The Highlanders welcome Haddam-Killingworth to Portland High School this Saturday (Oct 30) for an opening round match, starting at 6:00 p.m.
East Hampton will travel to Morgan the same day for their SLC tourney match at 5 p.m.
Win or lose, Christiana likes how his team has responded this fall, “This was a big rebuilding year and I’m proud of the team. I think we’ve scared a lot of teams this season.”
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin