1-0 Playoff Win Makes Wildcat History
With one swift kick, the Walt Whitman Wildcats on Tuesday snapped a 17-year playoff drought.
Sophomore Witman Hernandez drilled a shot into the net with just minutes remaining in the second half for the only goal of the game, propelling Whitman’s varsity soccer team to a 1-0 playoff win against No. 9 Deer Park.
Coach John DiGiacomo said the No. 8 Wildcats entered the 2013 season with a clear goal in mind: host a playoff game, and give the fans a show. Not only did the Wildcats meet their own expectations, but they also made history that afternoon.
Advancing in the Suffolk County Class AA Tournament is not an easy feat, and Deer Park put up a great fight throughout the match. It was evident that both teams were amped up for their playoff match. From the start, the play was fast and furious with an intensity level fit for a World Cup match. The fans shouted chants in unison, providing Whitman with a clear home-field advantage and a boost of energy.
Robin Bolanos highlighted a scoring opportunity by spearing his body like an arrow fresh off its bow for a cross that sailed just over his head, into the keeper’s gloves. That was the type of efforts and sacrifices both teams displayed on Tuesday afternoon, as fans of both schools were treated to a memorable show.
The second half opened up with the Wildcats’ signature aggressive play that has made playing against Whitman such a scary proposition for opponents. They played at a tempo that only the most fit teams would be able to keep up with – an obvious coach’s adjustment from the first half. They may have even been playing too fast, as the forwards were countlessly called for off-sides, finding it difficult to hold their offensive runs versus a disciplined Deer Park backline.
Deer Park limited highly-touted and talented seniors Bolanos and Darwin Hernandez to strictly role players – evidence of a strong scouting job by the Falcons coaching staff. This forced Whitman’s deep bench of unsung heroes to step up and make a difference for their team.
As time ticked under three minutes to play, the fans were on their feet. Hernandez found himself uncovered just outside the box as Whitman peppered Deer Park’s keeper with shots. One of these strikes deflected to the grass-stained cleat on his powerful right foot. He wound up and drilled a shot, sneaking it just inside the left post to give Whitman a late 1-0 lead.
Mid-game, the whole team sprinted towards Hernandez for a spirited celebration.
“I couldn’t believe it! I want to score again next week,” Hernandez said after the game.
The remaining two minutes felt like two hours as the Wildcats did all they could to punt any Falcon attack as far away from their goal as possible. Each cleared ball was met with a thundering cheer from the standing full-capacity crowd. Once the final horn sounded, fans erupted in celebration and the players wildly sprinting towards senior keeper Daniel Zagorski, who was waiting with open arms, standing at his home goal for the final time.
As an homage to their fans, the full roster jogged over to the stands, bowing and waving in thanks for their support.
Before the team departed for the locker room they broke their final post-game huddle at Whitman, exclaiming in unison, “Family!”
The club has now set their sights higher as they advance in the talent-rich Class AA tournament. Next up for Whitman will be Smithtown West, the undefeated and No. 1 overall seed in Suffolk County.
“Smithtown West is a team with a strong back-end and a physical style. We are ready for the challenge and have the talent up front to compete with anyone,” DiGiacomo said.
Cross-town rival Huntington High School was the only team to upset its higher-seeded opponent, leaving an extremely strong field still alive in the tournament. Whitman will travels for their match on Friday at 2 p.m.