The first step of that climb toward a playoff qualifying six wins was taken Thursday as Smithtown East defeated North Babylon, 3-0, in League III, which is arguably the deepest in the county.
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"I think there was a lot of relief for them today," Smithtown East coach Bill Hamilton said. "They showed that they can do this, they can put the ball in the net. We've dug a big hole for ourselves and they've decided they want to climb out of it."
Vernillo received a pass with her back to the goal then made a feed to Jordan Sackaris, who played it to the outside for Casey Mitchell. Mitchell fired into the upper corner of the net from 20 yards out to give Smithtown East a 1-0 lead 8:10 into the game.
It was the first varsity goal for Mitchell, a sophomore midfielder. For a team that has seemingly hit more crossbars and posts than nets of late, it was a welcome sight.
The frustration of the near misses began to set in on Monday during a 1-0 loss to first-place West Islip when a liner by Vernillo, who has six goals this season, was denied by the crossbar. The Bulls were simply told to keep shooting, which is exactly what Vernillo did Thursday.
Gabby Albano carried the ball down the left wing then turned along the end line and played a cross to Vernillo, who fired inside the far post to make it 2-0 with 12 minutes remaining in the half.
"Erin puts a lot of the offensive responsibility on herself. She doesn't have to but that's the way she is," Hamilton said of the junior striker. "She's very driven to perform. After setting up the first goal and scoring the second, she came up to me at halftime and said, 'Looks like things are turning around.' "
The turnaround continued as Albano knocked in a rebound off a shot by Erica Licari with 14 minutes remaining to seal the win for Smithtown East (2-4). North Babylon falls to 2-6.
It was the fourth shutout of the season for the defense, which was led by Marielle Moccia. Carly Vittoria had 10 saves, including a kick save on a wide-open shot in front of the net early in the game to keep it scoreless.
"I think it reaffirms the fact that they know they're a better team than their record is telling," Hamilton said. "I hope they believe this is a turning point for them."
And the start of their climb.