Of the 24 teams vying for the Nassau Class A boys’ soccer title, only Clarke was seeded below Long Beach.
The Marines didn’t get one of Conference A1’s four automatic bids, but qualified for the playoffs by virtue of a .500-or-better record (3-3-4) and entered the tournament with a nothing-to-lose attitude.
On Oct. 23, the No. 23 seed showed anything is possible once you qualify for the postseason. Senior Conor Haag scored twice in the second half and senior goalkeeper Matt Gernhardt frustrated 10th-seeded Bethpage all night as Long Beach sprung the upset, 2-0.
“It’s all about focus and hard work,” Haag said. “We came in here as big underdogs and knew we had to work. We knew we were capable based on some strong teams we played last year like Port Washington.”
Bethpage went 7-2-1 in Conference A3 and posted six shutouts during the regular season. The Golden Eagles missed a golden opportunity in the first half when a penalty kick sailed well over the crossbar and their scoring chances were few and far between in the second half when the Marines had the wind advantage.
“It was a good call, the ball hit off our guy’s hand in the box, but when someone misses a penalty kick in that spot, you get life,” Long Beach coach Leo Palacio said. “We exploded after that. We had three nice scoring chances into the wind and we felt really confident going into the second half.”
About four minutes before he broke the scoreless deadlock with 30:29 remaining, Haag blasted a shot that went off the hand of Bethpage goalie Nicolas Pepe and clanged off the crossbar. The next chance Haag got, off a crossing pass from senior Bryan Mizhirumbay, he headed it home.
“I just got behind the defender and it was a perfect pass,” Haag said.
The Marines didn’t sit on the lead, however. Palacio made it known they needed to keep the pressure on. “Bethpage is a very organized side,” Palacio said. “I saw a couple of their games on film. They may not have any superstars we needed to key on, but they’re balanced on offense and don’t make a lot of mistakes. To shut them out is a big accomplishment.”
Haag, who scored a team-leading 10 goals during the regular season, provided the insurance with 12:56 left off a feed from senior Keri Saravia. “We kept working and I was in the right place at the right time,” he said.
Working behind a defense led by senior Emerson Vasquez, junior Ian Ochoa and sophomores Anthony Camas and Daniel Cipra, Gernhardt’s two biggest saves came within five minutes after Haag made it 2-0. “Matt was tremendous,” Palacio said. “He didn’t let Bethpage get any momentum.
“We played a couple of teams that have a similar style to Bethpage and we knew we had to move the ball forward and fast,” the coach added. “Conor’s a scrapper and he came up huge with those goals. He’s a three-sport athlete who plays basketball and lacrosse. Lacrosse is his thing but he’s had a great year for us.”