With a healthy lineup at his disposal for only the third time all season, Baldwin boys’ soccer coach Mike Palumbo made a tweak that helped turn the page on a frustrating opening half that saw the Bruins drop four of six games.
Though he provided an offensive spark, senior Peter Rafferty returned to the defensive side of the field Oct. 2 against visiting East Meadow. He switched spots with senior Malik White and still managed to score on a penalty kick in Baldwin’s 4-1 victory. Rafferty’s goal followed a hat trick by Isaiah Welsh, who scored off assists from Alex Baez, Jack Thibault and Pascal Bastien.
“This was a game we had to get,” Palumbo said. “It was a tough September. We’ve been destroyed by injuries and we’re better than our record shows. Now we’ve got everyone back and we still have time to move up the standings and get into fourth.”
The top four finishers in the seven-team Conference AA-II will qualify for the playoffs. Farmingdale and Plainview-JFK, which sit first and second, respectively, defeated Baldwin by identical 1-0 scores. After grounding the Jets for their second win in three games, the Bruins were two points out of fourth with a record of 2-4-1.
“I’m proud of how we played against Farmingdale,” Palumbo said. “We started moving forward and followed with a win over Valley Stream Central. We always seem to have a hard time with Hicksville, but beating East Meadow puts on back on track.”
One of the biggest keys to the lineup, Palumbo said, is the return of sophomore Alessandro Garcia (broken toe) to center-midfield. His presence allowed the coach to switch from a traditional 4-4-2 alignment to a 4-3-3. “He has all the tools and connects our defense to the offense,” Palumbo said. “He can control the middle and distribute.”
Rafferty, who has five goals in seven games, is also prone to making runs from defense into the attack zone. “Peter’s most comfortable on defense, and he has the green light to push the ball,” Palumbo said. “He can really strike the ball, so he was also a good fit at forward. Hopefully he can stay healthy all season. He’s a big piece of the puzzle.”
Baez, Jeremy Hui, and Carlos Padilla are playing stifling defense, Palumbo said, and junior goalkeeper Jake Sable has made the most of his opportunity. Baez, a senior, usually draws the toughest defensive assignment but against East Meadow it was Hui who held Jets standout forward Billy Walsh in check.
Baldwin’s offensive front can still be dangerous without Rafferty doing full-time work. White’s blazing speed led to a pair of golden scoring opportunities against East Meadow, including one shot that clanged off the post. “Malik can run past anybody on through balls,” Palumbo said. “If we need to, we can always drop him back on defense to give Peter or one of the other guys a breather.”
The Bruins travel to Port Washington on Oct. 10 at 4:30 p.m.