When the ball left Stefan Nikolic’s right foot and found the back of the net, the Harborfields boys soccer team let out a huge sigh of relief.
Harborfields is a team built on strong defense and that was never more apparent than Friday, when the host No. 3 Tornadoes defeated No. 6 Shoreham-Wading River, 1-0, in a Suffolk A boys soccer quarterfinal.
"We’re a team that needs that first goal because we’re organized on defense," defender Carmelo Carbone said. "It was a hard fought game. They were throwing everything at us and we dug deep. It was a gutsy win."
Shoreham-Wading River opened the game strong, and though there weren’t many chances, it controlled possession and the pace early.
It wasn’t until Nikolic’s goal off an assist from Jude Callan with a little over 10 minutes remaining in the first half that Harborfields was able to settle into the defensive mentality that has made them a contender this year.
"This whole season has been about defense," coach DJ Greening said. "Our backline has been extremely strong and they really held up today. Carbone, Aidan Cuthertson, Ward Tucker and TJ Carroll, all four of them are seniors that have been playing together. It’s really been impressive."
Shoreham-Wading River (10-3) still got some chances late. With just over 10 minutes left in the game, a shot rocketed off the crossbar. There also was a free kick from just outside the box with eight minutes remaining that was blocked by the defensive wall and a last ditch effort in the final seconds that was deflected over the goal by keeper Ryan Steel.
"They gave us a little scare but the reality is none of them went in," Carbone said. "Our keeper is really strong so we weren’t too worried."
Harborfields (8-2-1) will play the winner of No. 2 Amityville and No. 7 Sayville in the semifinals Wednesday.
"My defense has been able to lock down and the foundation of this team is our backline," Steel said. "It’s very important, especially in the playoffs, to capitalize when you can."
Shoreham-Wading River keeper William Devall also played a strong game and made a key fingertip stop late in the game to keep his team in it.
"I try to take every chance I can get because I know we’re not going to get that many," Nikolic said.
As has been the case more often than not this season, one goal was more than enough.
"As long as we keep it clean in the back one goal will do it for us," Cuthbertson said. "We’re happy to be moving on."