Francesca Vasile-Cozzo was staring her team’s chance at a Suffolk County title straight in the face, but not literally. That was the senior midfielder’s strategy during her Mattituck/Southold/Greenport girls soccer team’s penalty kick shootout with Babylon.
“I thought, ‘Don’t look at the spot I’m going to place the ball,’” she said. “So I just walked up to the goal looking at the ground. And when it went in, I thought, ‘Did that just happen?’”
Vasile-Cozzo’s goal gave her team a 5-4 shootout win for the Class B crown at Center Moriches High School October 29.
“We’ve never given up,” she said. “We’re definitely scrappy — we have some attitude and feistiness in us — and this was definitely not a one-person type of win.”
Overtime wouldn’t have even been possible if it wasn’t for Jillian Golden’s hat trick goal with 32 seconds left in regulation to help the team come back from a 3-1 deficit late in the second half.
“It was definitely a shocker,” Vasile-Cozzo said of the late goal. “At that point, when you’re down with little time left, you’re not giving up, but you’re preparing yourself mentally. A wave of emotion rushed over us and all we could do was start jumping and screaming.”
Golden’s road to the playoffs was a rocky one. The senior forward had 33 goals and 16 assists for last year’s 14-5 Southold/Greenport team, but ended with two goals and two assists after missing a majority of the season with a broken wrist.
“I feel blessed — it felt like God was watching me,” she said, admitting that she is not a religious person. “I was terrified coming in, but I showed up to play. I sat down with my mom at the kitchen table and she was rubbing my head while I was listening to motivational speeches on YouTube. I just kept begging and pleading saying, ‘We deserve this.’”
She put MSG (9-8) on the board just 11 seconds into the contest, and with each goal the sky seemed to open to let the sun shine through just a little more.
“That first goal, it was like something possessed me,” she said, laughing. “When it was 3-1 I thought, ‘We’re not going out like this. This is not how I’m going to be remembered.’ And with the last one, I was telling myself, ‘Don’t rush. It’s 1-v-1, goalie against me. I’m better, and I’m going to finish this.”
The teams remained scoreless through two 10-minute overtimes and two five-minute sudden-death sessions.
Babylon (10-6) went first in the shootout, but with each goal MSG had an answer. Claire Gatz, Golden, Maddie Bruer and Lauren Zuhoski made the first four to keep the score tied 4-4 before the tide changed. Not having played at all during regulation, junior goalkeeper Sarah Santacroce said she needed some time to find her rhythm. She used those first shots as warm-ups, and made saves on the Panthers’ fifth and sixth shots, but her teammates’ were also stopped as the evening’s string of ties continued.
“When Jillian made that final goal I couldn’t help but start crying,” Santacrose said. “There are no words. All I kept thinking was, ‘This can’t be real.’ I told myself I needed to keep my composure, that I’m a goalie, and each time I stepped in the box I told myself, ‘I just have to save one.’”
On Babylon’s final attempt, the kick went wide right and high above the goal, putting all the weight on Vasile-Cozzo.
“I felt pure happiness,” Santacroce said when she saw the ball hit the inside of the net. “I just kept screaming, ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!”
The team was able to accomplish the feat after a string of six losses to start the season, and is currently riding a five-game winning streak. The three schools had never combined before, so coming together to make a team was an achievement itself, and each success since then has been a milestone marker.
“Combining all three schools gave us an environment that develops athletes,” Golden said. “When we first started playing it was rough — we played as individuals, but today, we played as a team. We’re pure-minded athletes, pulling away with the win when nobody else thought we could.”
Mattituck/Southold/Greenport will will play Wheatley for the Long Island championship title at Islip High School November 3 at 2:30 PM.