East Meadow and Mepham entered last Friday’s Nassau Conference AA-II boys’ soccer matchup with identical 2-4 records and looking for a win that would bring a share of all-important fourth place with Baldwin.
However, victory eluded both the Jets and Pirates and there’s still plenty of catching up to do. They each battled back from a one-goal deficit and settled for a 2-2 tie that kept Baldwin two points ahead in the conference’s final playoff slot.
Senior Dante Ippolito’s fifth goal of the year, off a defender with 12:09 remaining, was the equalizer for visiting Mepham, which hadn’t scored in its previous four conference games. East Meadow had three quality scoring chances in the final five minutes, but Pirates sophomore goalkeeper Blake Heller (seven saves) withstood the pressure.
“It’s good whenever you can come back to gain a tie on the road, but we could’ve used the win and three points,” Mepham coach Jim Koester said. “We’ve had a rough stretch and I thought this was the best game we’ve played in three weeks. We haven’t had a full lineup in a while for several reasons, so this game is encouraging.”
The Jets took a 2-1 lead with 22:26 to go when sophomore Billy Walsh blasted home his eighth goal of the year off a direct free kick from 25 yards out. “I don’t know how Billy stuck that in,” East Meadow coach Bob Elder said. “He’s taken his game to another level and is one of the leading goal scorers in the county.”
A few minutes before Walsh snapped a 1-1 halftime tie, Jets senior defender Kyle Bettex, who also serves as the kicker on the football team, made an acrobatic save at the goal line to deny Mepham freshman Evan Spector of his first tally. Spector’s high shot bounced past East Meadow junior goalkeeper Rui Cunha (eight saves), but Bettex used a bicycle kick to clear it out of harm’s way just before it crossed the line.
Mepham was back on its heels early in the first half as Walsh and juniors Franklin Flores and Ryan Lao all tested Heller, but the Pirates managed to open the scoring 10:20 into the contest when senior Harly Hosty converted a crossing pass from junior Dylan Christie. Cunha made two key stops to keep it 1-0, and the Jets pulled even at 21:59 when James Lim set up fellow senior Marvin Pineda for his second goal of the year.
Pineda’s first goal came in the first meeting when Mepham took a 3-1 home decision Sept. 12 behind a pair of Ippolito goals and one from sophomore Corey Gringer. It hasn’t been smooth sailing for the Pirates since that victory, but Koester is optimistic about a playoff run.
“We probably need to steal some points from the top teams to get in,” Koester said. “It’s not impossible.”
The Jets are in the same boat. “This was a rough week for us with three games,” Elder said. “We’re a little banged up, but I like the way we played.”