Commack's Connor Gill (4) and Justin Cebollero (7) react after...

Commack's Connor Gill (4) and Justin Cebollero (7) react after Gill's score in the second half of the Long Island Class AA final on Sunday, Nov. 9, 2014. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

The ball sat there for an instant, a still object amid a swirl of players frantically jostling for position in the box. "I knew I had to pounce on it," Commack senior forward Connor Gill said of the inviting spheroid target.

Bull's-eye!

Gill booted home the rebound of teammate Thomas Amato's hard blast off the goalkeeper's chest for the game's only score as Commack turned back MacArthur, 1-0, Sunday to win its first Long Island Class A boys soccer championship since 1995.

"Thomas shot it and the keeper made a nice save," Gill said. "It was shocking to me. The ball was sitting right there. It doesn't happen that way a lot. I just finished it."

In finishing off MacArthur and its stout defense, Commack (19-1-1), advanced to Saturday's state Class AA semifinal against Shenendehowa at 1:30 p.m. at Middletown High School. The Generals suffered their first loss of the season and finished 14-1-3.

For Gill, the game-winner made him feel much better about a season that has been disappointing by his very high standards. He led the Cougars with 11 goals in 2013, but Sunday's tally was just his seventh this season. "It's been a bit of a struggle for him," coach Dave Viegas said. "Some people doubted him. But I told him I was staying loyal to him. It paid off today."

Gill said the goal was a product of regular practice drills where the Cougars "work on rebounds. We crash from the outside and crash to the goal."

Gill's goal kept Commack from crash-landing in a season full of great expectations. "We consider ourselves a good soccer school. We play the best competition. But we know we've been 0-8 in the Suffolk finals until this year," Viegas said. "We didn't hide from it. This year the message was, 'Be different.' And they did something different."

To do that, however, the Cougars reverted to the same strategy they have employed throughout the playoffs: Get a lead and shift senior midfielder Justin Cebollero, an offensive threat, to the back line. "Offense wins games but defense wins championships," Viegas said. "Justin is one of our tallest players and can bang it out of there. Once we got the lead, we tried to lock it down."

Cebollero was glad to be the key to that tactic. "The coach has trust in me when I go back and I'm confident I can shut them down," he said. "I've said all along that this team has heart and desire. I wouldn't want to spend my senior year with anyone else. But we're not done. Our main focus is the states."

That opportunity is right in front of them . . . another inviting target for the Cougars.

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