Chris Bowden, Michael Moraitis show they're exceptional
One last shot. That's what the top senior soccer players on Long Island were given during Saturday's Nassau/Suffolk Exceptional Senior games at St. Joseph's College in Patchogue. Over 80 athletes from each county took part in tryouts, hoping to be selected to one of two all-star teams in each county -- representing the best that Long Island has to offer.
For these elite few, their four-year career didn't end with the playoffs. It was their outstanding play, both during the season and at team tryouts, that afforded them 90 more minutes to don a high school jersey.
"It meant a lot," Port Washington goalkeeper Michael Moraitis said of the opportunity. "After losing in the [Nassau] semifinals [to Syosset], it's great to have one more game, especially for the seniors. It's a great game."
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Moraitis made 16 saves in the second match of the all-star double dip, a scoreless draw. "It's the last game, make it a good one," Moraitis said.
Even on a field filled with Long Island's top soccer players, some stood out as the best of the best.
"It was pretty thrilling," Bowden said of the three goal performance. "It was upsetting to lose in the playoffs. This was my last chance [to play in high school] and it was a good experience."
Bowden scored twice at the end of the first half, capping a four-goal opening period for the Suffolk All-Stars. He scored again midway through the second half, this time on a header.
"I just got my head on it and put it in the back of the net," Bowden said. The Commack senior said he's hoping to play soccer at the University of New Haven.
Bowden wasn't the only Suffolk player to take advantage of the final chance to play as a high school student.
Mattituck teammates David Burkhardt and Stephen Urwand remained in sync. Burkhardt scored, off a pass from Urwand, with 15:22 left in the first half of the opening game, to give Suffolk a 2-0 lead.
"It was pretty special," Burkhardt said. "I felt like he was returning the favor. At the end of the year, I gave him the game-winning assist in the Southeast Regional game [against Spackenkill], so it just felt right."
"The chemistry was natural -- pass it to your teammate," he said. "It turned out well. He scored, so I'm happy."
Urwand was also relieved that the Mattituck connection paid dividends.
"If he didn't [score], it probably would have looked pretty bad on my part," he said with a chuckle.
The two teammates began playing together when they were 10-years old. While they weren't always on the same side as youths, high school soccer gave them a chance to reestablish a winning connection.
Mattituck lost to Livonia in last week's state tournament, so walking off a winner just felt right for the two friends.
"It felt like something finally came out the right way," Burkhardt said. "It should have turned out that way between us."
Deer Park's Daniel Friend also scored in the first game.