YORKTOWN HEIGHTS —For the first 40 minutes of the Yorktown tournament championship game on Saturday, Lakeland looked overmatched by a Somers team that moved the ball crisply and dominated time of possession.
But in the second half, the Hornets made the switch from a low pressure to a high pressure strategy, and it lured the Tuskers right where they wanted them.
“It’s not the rope-a-dope, but it’s kind of close to that,” Lakeland coach Tim Hourahan said. “The wind was a big factor, and we decided what we wanted to do was go against the wind in the first half, really sit deep with one high and look for counters. But we were really upset with our passing and communication.”
The switch caught Somers off guard, and the result was a second half in which Lakeland imposed its will and netted a pair of goals for a 2-0 win.
“At halftime, we talked about how we have to connect on more passes, and we switched from low pressure to high pressure, which I feel we’re stronger at,” junior defender Gino Cassese said. “We went at them, kept hammering it down there and we got some good balls and some good finishes from our forwards.”
In a matchup between two Class A semifinalists from last season, the Tuskers (3-1) were in complete control in the first half. They outshot the Hornets, 10-1, but failed to convert a goal.
“I was happy with almost everything in the first half, except for the finishing in the final third,” Somers coach James Palumbo said. “I thought we kept the ball well, moved the ball forward, but in the final third, nothing was happening for us.”
Getting to halftime with the game scoreless was a win for Lakeland (4-2), which proceeded to come out for the second half like a different team.
Senior Edwin Hernandez’s header sailed just high in the opening minutes of the half, but in the 48th minute, his shot was true to give the Hornets an unexpected 1-0 lead.
“Nazariy (Myniv) gave it to Devin (Flanagan), and Devin flicked it with his head,” Hernandez said. “I kicked it in one-touch.”
In the 57th minute, sophomore Johnny Denis added an insurance goal on a rocket from about 25 yards out, leading some to wonder if Lakeland should have been playing high pressure the whole game.
“The kids keep wanting it, but I don’t know if we’re as deep as we were last year, so I don’t know if we can do it for 80 minutes,” Hourahan said. “We have to pick our spots, and with the weather today, we thought the second half with the wind was our spot.”
• It’s not that rare to see a game in which a team successfully makes halftime adjustments, but this game was about as extreme as they come. Lakeland couldn’t put together any kind of offensive attack in the first half and Somers dominated the 50-50 balls in the midfield, which gave you the inevitable feeling that the Tuskers would come out on top. But their inability to finish on one of several quality opportunities left the door open for the Hornets. “We played the worst half that we did all year, and it was 0-0,” Hourahan said. “That’s what I told the guys. I said, ‘We haven’t played worse all year, and as bad as you’re feeling right now, the score is 0-0.’ ”
• The high pressure switch was definitely not what Somers was expecting, and Hourahan’s boxing analogy works well. He’s one of the best in the section when it comes to strategy and in-game adjustments, and today was more proof of that. “I felt like we came out flat in the second half,” Palumbo said. “I felt like we maybe were overconfident because we had a lot of the ball in the first half. In the second half, I felt that it wasn’t the same intensity on the ball, off the ball. It didn’t start out well, and then once they got that goal, I felt that it was difficult for the guys to regroup together and comeback from it.”
• The unsung hero for Lakeland was junior goalkeeper Javier Gonzalez, who finished with seven saves for the shutout—five of which came in the first half. With returning starter Reggis Mora breaking his ankle, Gonzalez has been forced into action. And while the transition was not smooth at first, he’s really settled in nicely. He’s got a big, athletic body, so now it’s just a matter of gaining experience and confidence. Hourahan said that Mora is expected back next month, but he may be tempted to keep Gonzalez in goal and play Mora in the field. “The last couple of games, he’s been doing real great – making some big saves and saving us a lot,” Cassese said. “I feel he’s really adjusted well. The first couple of games, he was nervous and not himself, but now he’s in the game and doing really well. I’m proud of him.”
• With Lakeland now sitting at 4-2 with this win over third-ranked Somers, you can probably expect to see the Hornets move up in the rankings. As far as Class A goes, it’s a free-for-all after No. 1 Byram Hills. Lakeland’s only two losses came against Arlington and Mamaroneck—the top two teams in the most recent LoHud rankings—and this is a team with a rich history of postseason success under Hourahan. And believe me, he always has the big picture in the back of his mind. “We have 10 games left, and I don’t think that any team that we play is going to be better than us, on paper,” Hourahan said. “We want to win every single game – every game is just as important as the next. Four points per game, and we want to get a high seed. A is wide open. It’s Matty (Allen and Byram Hills), and everybody else right now. We want to get in there with a top two seed so we get some home games, but we feel comfortable. We have nine Class A games left out of 10, and every time you play one of them, if you win, they move down and we move up.”
MORE RESULTS FROM SATURDAY
When Port Chester coach John Cafaldo and his team traveled to New Rochelle on Saturday, he knew they were going to be playing against a program with a proud, supportive home crowd.
“It was like a playoff game,” Cafaldo said. “We had an excellent fan base that traveled for us and that was good to see.”
After a scoreless first half for both teams, Luis Morales netted two goals for Port Chester while Oswaldo Valencia and Luis Torres each scored a goal for New Rochelle.
Evenly matched at 2-2 with no more time left in regulation the teams moved into overtime.
“Everybody was tired on both teams because it was such a high intensity game,” Cafaldo said.
Just when it appeared that everybody was tired, Steven Hernandez managed to muster up energy to lift his team for a 3-2 win in double overtime. Teammate Mark Macias had five saves to help lead a strong defensive effort.
“It was a complete team effort, we bounced back and answered pretty well,” Cafaldo said.
The win gave Cafaldo a look at what the 4-2 Rams could do when battling in Class AA, where competition is tough.
“There was a lot of respect from both teams,” he said. “It got a little bit rough but everybody shook hands and were gentlemen after.”
Best of the Rest: Liam Aherne scored a goal assisted by Matthew Toal for Bronxville in a 1-0 win over Rye Neck in the championship game of the Broncos’ tournament. … Valhalla beat Dobbs Ferry 2-1 in the consolation game of the Bronxville tourney. …Anthony Colucci and Robert Ottaviano each scored a goal for Albertus Magnus in a 2-1 win over Clarkstown North. … Chris Coughlan scored a goal assisted by Brendan Valentine for Pearl River in a 1-0 win over North Rockland to help the Pirates remain unbeaten. … Igancio Marini scored a goal for Scarsdale in a 1-1 tie against Monroe-Woodbury. … Daiton Powell scored a goal assisted by Tommy Schemberg for Suffern in a 1-0 win over Tappan Zee. … Jack Lupica and Nick Kyriakidis each had a goal and an assist in Pleasantville’s 6-1 win at Hamilton. … Carmel’s Sebastian Lopez had three goals and an assist in a 5-1 win at home over Beacon. … Mamaroneck’s Nick Tunic scored twice in a 6-0 win at home over Gorton.
Photos by Caurcha L. Meuse/The Journal News