Ricky Velasquez sent a rocket into the Half Hollow Hills West goal with about 15 minutes remaining in the second half to help the Huntington boys’ soccer team pull off a stunning upset Tuesday afternoon, 1-0.
The victory propels the Blue Devils into the Suffolk Class AA quarterfinals on Friday at Hauppauge at 2 p.m. “This is a really big win,” Huntington head coach John Pagano said. “It’s incredible.”
After the strong, fast and aggressive Colts dominated the first half of play, Pagano instituted a three-forward offense to breathe new life into the Blue Devil attack in the second frame and it worked. The victory was the Huntington program’s biggest win in decades.
Huntington’s magnificent goalie Lee Reiver stopped 11 shots to record his ninth shutout of the season. The senior made a series of dramatic saves in the final 10 minutes of play, some in the midst of a crowd of players, to preserve the Blue Devils’ upset victory.
“Today was one of the best wins I’ve ever been involved in as an athlete,” Reiver said. “Going into this game having never beaten Hills West only motivated us more. They were a fantastic team and had an amazing season. With that being said, as the underdog we knew that there was little pressure on us so we just said ‘hey, let’s play our game.”
Velasquez launched what proved to be the game-winning shot from the left side, putting the ball firmly in the right corner of the net. After taking the only lead of the game, Pagano wasted little time putting his team into a more defensive posture in an attempt to limit any risks. “Once we had the lead, we wanted to protect it and wind down the clock,” he said.
Huntington’s players raced up and down the field to keep pace with the Colts’ highly skilled line-up, challenging for every ball in the very physical contest. The Blue Devils had a hard time getting close enough to the goal to take a shot, but when Velasquez did, he gave Huntington all it needed. Hills West’s outstanding goalie Ethan Muller made five saves in the game.
“The whole game was stressful for the defense and me because of their constant attack; the last 10 minutes more than the others because we pulled everyone off of offense and put them in the back, which basically allowed them to control the ball for the remainder of the game,” Reiver said. “It was extremely stressful back there and I couldn’t take my eyes off of the clock. However, our guys played so tough all the way until the final whistle and didn’t give them any great chances.”
Hills West (14-1-2) had defeated Huntington (9-4-5) by identical l-0 scores in two regular season games between the teams. With the season riding on the outcome, Tuesday afternoon’s contest was a high octane affair. The crowd of 300 included about 75 loud Blue Devil fans who periodically chanted “Let’s go Blue!”
No. 15 Huntington will travel to No. 10 Hauppauge (11-3-3) on Friday at 2 p.m. The Eagles upset No. 7 Ward Melville (8-6) on its home field in double overtime, 1-0 to advance to the Suffolk Class AA quarterfinals. Goalie Joe Scudero recorded his seventh shutout of the season.
Huntington and Hauppauge tied 2-2 in double overtime last week on the Blue Devils’ Senior Day. Santiago Alzate and Matt Whitcher scored goals. Jeremy Gelb had an assist. Reiver made six saves in the game. Three weeks earlier, the Eagles topped the Blue Devils, 2-1. Whitcher scored a goal and Reiver stopped seven shots.
Huntington is on a high after the program’s biggest victory in a long time. “This win showed that we can play with anybody,” Reiver said. “We are ready for Hauppauge on Friday.”