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Rocky Point taking off
Pardon this terrible pun, but… Rocky Point is getting “Rocky” points. By that we mean they’ve taken their lumps coming up and, though it isn’t always pretty, they’ve continued to ascend. Like the movie character. (Hey, I did say it was a terrible pun. But "Gonna Fly Now" kinda works because of the team name. Right?)
Third-seeded Rocky Point defeated No. 6 Southampton, 1-0, Tuesday in a Suffolk Class B quarterfinal. Catlynn Kundrat scored on a penalty stroke 9:35 into the game and the Eagles defense made it hold.
“I was so proud of her,” goalie Casey Heely said of Kundrat. “I told her before the game I knew she’d score; I felt it. It gave us the boost we needed, but the defense had to stay strong because it was only one goal.”
The defense did that, helping keep the ball in Southampton’s territory for extended stretches and not giving the Mariners many legit scoring opportunities. And to think, Rocky Point had been wary of facing Southampton in the postseason.
“We beat them twice this year,” Eagles coach Katie Bittner said, explaining the reasoning, “and going into the playoffs, I’d hoped we wouldn’t have to see them. It’s hard to beat a team three times in a year.”
In the teams’ first meeting, Rocky Point won, 3-2, in penalty strokes (Kundrat was the hero then, too). It was actually Shoreham-Wading River that the Eagles wanted to face in the first round – because of the same logic. They’d lost to the Wildcats twice in the regular season and figured the 0-for-3 was unlikely. There was also the payback factor. (They won’t get that opportunity at all. Shoreham, the four-time defending county champs, were defeated, 2-1, by Miller Place in the first round yesterday.)
As for the team they did play…
“Southampton is outstanding,” Bittner said. “Kim [Hannigan] is a great coach, they have Keeling Pilaro; they have a lot of seniors, so they’ve got a lot to play for. They were ready for us. But we watched a lot of film and our preparation was good.”
The Mariners (10-7) did have some chances late in the game. They drew three penalty corners in the final 5:42, including two with under two minutes remaining. The Eagles defense, which has been calling itself “D-Unit” this week, the coach said, cleared them all. They twice sent the ball out wide towards the sideline, forcing Southampton to scramble.
“I was thrilled when they had the corners that late because that eats up a lot of clock,” Bittner said. “Cindy Russell, the last 30 seconds, was making stop after stop. Jen Wandle, Maria Guerrisi and Kristine Loscalzo were awesome defending the corners.”
And there’s Heely, who made five saves, including a stop on a penalty stroke with 29:23 left. The goalie has gotten used to playing under pressure this season. Rocky Point has averaged 1.8 goals per game, and they’re 13-4. But there’s that pressure, and then there’s final-two-minutes-of-a-playoff-game pressure.
“I just knew we had to give everything we had,” Heely said. “I told the other players on defense that this is it, this could be the last time you play, so go all out.”
Heely added that Rocky Point’s home field (a grass surface) proved to their advantage against Southampton, which plays on turf. “I know even for us, after we play on turf and come back, there’s an adjustment,” the senior said. “It’s a different game. It did give us a little edge because we play on this field every day.”
Home field was earned via the higher seed, though.
As has been mentioned before, Rocky Point was a team under construction in recent years. They were never a bad team, just not one ready to truly contend. But last year they made some noise, going 10-6 and reaching the semifinals - and they were perhaps ahead of schedule. This season they’ve built on that.
“I started coaching here five years ago and we’ve gone a step farther each year,” Bittner said. “My first year, we finished seventh and missed the playoffs. Right now, we’re looking for a trip to the Suffolk championship game.”
But, the coach reminded, it’s one step at a time. They’ll have to go through No. 2 Harborfields in the semifinals at 2:30 p.m. Friday. The Eagles lost, 1-0, to Harborfields on Oct. 12. But should they avenge that loss – and that is one of their motivators – and reach the final…
“It would be a dream come true,” Bittner said, “for a lot of these kids and myself.”