Six months ago, Josue Avendano was in El Salvador. Tuesday night, he was on Cloud 9.
The sophomore midfielder delivered a shot that was deflected into the net by Long Island's leading scorer, Gianluca Santacruz, with 2:41 remaining in the second overtime to give Southampton a thrilling 1-0 victory over Carle Place in the Long Island Class B championship game at Diamond in the Pines in Coram.
After helping lift his team into the state regional final Saturday against the Hastings-Spackenkill winner at a site and time to be announced, his teammates returned the favor. The jubilant Mariners (19-0) lifted Avendano into the air just a few yards away from where his redirected shot found the right corner of the net, and loudly chanted his name.
"I have no words to describe it," said Avendano, who answered questions in Spanish with Santacruz standing alongside him and acting as his interpreter. "I'm really happy. It's everything I dreamed about. Most of my friends aren't here and I've only been in this country for six months. But now I feel like part of the team."
Santacruz, a senior forward, is no stranger to the spotlight. He now has 22 goals and 28 assists for an Island-leading 50 points. His game-winner, after 107 minutes and 19 seconds of tense action, mistake-free defense and sparkling goaltending, came after Milton Reinoso faked a shot from outside the box and put a cross right in front of Carle Place's stellar keeper Liam Lofgren (seven saves). Jesse Scanlon, Long Island's leading goal-scorer with 34, tried a header but it caromed outside the box.
Avendano "ripped it," Southampton coach Dave Riley said and Santacruz finished the job.
"When he took the shot, I saw the goalie dive," Santacruz said. "I just slightly put it to the other side. It's my first golden goal. What a feeling."
Santacruz said he could only imagine what Avendano was feeling. "It must be so hard to play and not understand what your teammates are saying," Santacruz said. "But here he is, starting as a sophomore and he's a huge part of this team."
So is Southampton's defense. Keeper Tommy Alejo made nine saves, and like his counterpart, got help from a shot that banged cleanly off a post. Mostly, though, Alejo got help from a mobile and strong defense that has excelled down the stretch.
"I'm especially proud of the starting defense because those guys have stood out for close to 10 hours of play without giving up a goal," Riley said, citing Ramon Castillo, Jacob Villalobos and Hunter West. "That speaks highly of how well our defense has come together."
Carle Place (11-4-2) also played superb defense but finally wilted as Southampton controlled play in the extra periods, applying continual offensive pressure. "It seemed like our guys came to life in the overtimes," Riley said.
Santacruz said that was because they feared Lofgren if the game was to be decided by penalty kicks. "He's a great goalie and we didn't want it to come down to that," Santacruz said.
Thanks to Avendano, it did not.