HERKIMER, N.Y. - The Suffolk Community College men's soccer team felt disrespected. Three early-season losses had deflected the hype from the Sharks to the rest of the NJCAA's Division III, according to coach Frank Vertullo.
"Everybody was talking about [No. 1] Herkimer and [No. 2] Richland in the final," Vertullo said. "We weren't going to let that happen."
Romario Hulea and a stout defensive effort helped that statement come to fruition, as the No. 4 Sharks (20-4) upset host Herkimer College, 1-0, Friday. They will face either Richland College or No. 6 Cayuga CC in the national championship Sunday at 2 p.m.
Herkimer (17-1-1) beat Suffolk, 1-0, in last year's final.
The Sharks benefited from the thin layer of snow blanketing Wehrum Stadium's turf. In the 12th minute, Hulea chased after a ball that had landed in the box ahead of the pack. As Herkimer goalkeeper Austin Santor dove, Hulea's foot arrived at the same time to loosen the wet ball from his grip.
Hulea skidded to a stop, recovered quickly and launched the winner past a helpless defender.
"He just pounced on the rebound," Vertullo said.
Hulea, who scored twice in Suffolk's 4-1 quarterfinal win over No. 5 Camden CC, has 28 goals this season.
The freshman missed seven games, including two of those three losses. He and Joseph Lopez, who has 32 goals, have given Suffolk a quick, dynamic attack.
"Everyone's focused on Joseph, but Romario -- he's not far behind now -- he would have just as many if not more goals if he played the whole season," Vertullo said.
With those two leading the way, Suffolk put eight shots on goal. Santor made a handful of spectacular saves to keep the game close.
But as good as Santor was defensively, Suffolk's back line was better. Herkimer applied pressure throughout the match, but the Sharks' Marvin Chinchilla, Josh Zapata and Adam Ek held strong. Keith Marro and Terry Alas also contributed a few timely clears, and keeper Jon Zapata had four saves.
"I always tell them at this point of the season, it's about execution and desire," Vertullo said. "We wanted it, and we executed. That was the difference."