Alex Ambrose really got a big kick out of this one.

No, really.

With three seconds left and Port Jefferson crashing the circle, in came a low liner ticketed for the left corner of the cage. But the ball met the right foot of Ambrose, who made a kick save at almost the last second.

"I like the right side," said Ambrose, the Southampton goalie. "That's my stronger leg."

Too strong, perhaps. The Mariners couldn't afford to kick back just yet because the ball kicked back to a Royal, who reset and fired. But the shot at the horn rolled just wide right. Only then could Southampton kick up its feet and enjoy a 1-0 win in Suffolk Division III field hockey Tuesday. "I love shutouts," said Ambrose, who had five saves.

Had the game gone to overtime, the Mariners likely would have been kicking themselves. Instead, they made Meggie Gallo's second-half goal hold.

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Likewise, Southampton (5-2) has held its standing among the elite despite an offseason shake-up. Star midfielder Keeling Pilaro, who was the second boy to play varsity field hockey in Long Island, transferred to a boarding school in Virginia, and coach Kim Hannigan left to start Dowling's field hockey program. That's in addition to the loss of key seniors.

"It's different," junior Caroline Ricca said, "but we've had people step up and the freshmen have done a great job contributing during this transition."

Southampton was blanked on three corner chances in the first seven minutes of the second half. Tammy Serabian (13 saves) twice made three stops during scramble sequences.

But Gallo, one could say, kick-started the Mariners. She drove across the goal and, from 5 yards left, lashed in a reverse sweep with 13:28 left. "It was discouraging to struggle, but it wasn't as nerve-racking as other games we've been in," Gallo said, referring to Southampton's run to the 2012 state final. "[Serabian] is good, but we eventually found a way."

The defense held the Royals (1-5) at bay, including clearing three penalty corners late. "It's a fresh start for the team and me," said Southampton coach Jessica Zukosky, who also held the position in 2005. "I don't think the expectations were as high for us this year, but we've done our best to rise to the occasion."

They've kicked it up a notch.