The only thing Long Beach goalie Eddie Collins couldn't swat away Wednesday were the gnats that swarmed incessantly off the nearby bay. The tiny bugs got under his skin; the Bethpage shots hardly stung at all.
With Collins acting as a shot repellent by making 13 saves and a young defense playing beyond its years, host No. 7 Long Beach defeated No. 10 Bethpage, 7-3, in a Nassau Class B first-round playoff game.
"Our goalie is a great player. He's the best goalie in the county," Marines coach Jim Kaspar said. "I was worried about our three 10th graders on defense making mistakes. But they're so athletic that they recovered and they all played well."
Sophomore defenders Kris Horvath, Joe Brand and Alec Salvadori helped make Collins' job a little easier by stopping every Bethpage player except Ryan Walsh, who scored all three of the visitors' goals. Alex Solomon led a balanced offense for Long Beach with three goals and two assists, and Jake Shapiro and Joe Radin added two goals each. But the buzz was about Collins.
"We all feed off Eddie's energy," said Solomon, a senior captain. "He's a three-year starter and he's always moving, always talking. He helps out the whole team."
Collins didn't have much work early as the Marines scored the first three goals and controlled the pace and time of possession. It remained 3-1 until late in the third quarter when Radin scored two goals and fed Solomon for another as Long Beach scored three goals in 36 seconds to break it open.
When Bethpage cut the deficit to 6-3 early in the fourth quarter, Solomon uncorked a laser from the perimeter for an unassisted goal that squelched the Golden Eagles' comeback hopes.
Collins, who scratched at his face and neck and waved frantically at the persistent gnats during his postgame interviews, was itching for action during the middle part of the game. "Sitting around and waiting, I get a little antsy," Collins said. "But one save or one play can get me back into it."
Though he made a handful of acrobatic saves, the play that sparked his team's three-goal flurry in the third quarter was when Collins raced behind the goal after a wide shot and got to the end line ahead of a Bethpage attacker, giving possession to the Marines.
"We were looking for a boost and after Ed ran out and made that play we got it," Solomon said.
"Just a hustle play. I'm an excitable kid," Collins said, stating the obvious. "I was very amped up the whole game."
Only the gnats could match his energy level.