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Rafael Celanti’s early goal propels Newfield into ‘AA’ final

Newfield forward Rafael Celanti, midfielder James Birchwell, midfielder

Newfield forward Rafael Celanti, midfielder James Birchwell, midfielder Nick Gomez and defender John Alves celebrate a second-half goal as Hauppauge goalkeeper Brendan Ilnitzki reacts during a boys soccer Class AA semifinal playoff game on Monday, Oct. 31, 2016. Newfield defeated Hauppauge 2-0. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

While Rafael Celanti was busy thanking coaches for a mid-season position change, coaches and teammates were thanking him for sending Newfield to its first appearance in the Suffolk AA boys soccer final.

The sophomore, who was moved from center-midfield to forward during the season because the Wolverines were struggling to score consistently, scored in the eighth minute of Monday’s 2-0 win over host Hauppauge. It was the first loss of the season for the No. 2 Eagles (15-1-3).

“Ever since Coach put me up there, we started scoring more goals and winning more games,” Celanti said.

For coach Jamie Santiago, the idea to switch Celanti’s position made sense.

“He is a true natural forward,” Santiago said. “He holds the ball up well. He’s loose and deceptive in speed. And he’s a pure finisher.”

Celanti’s goal came off a flick from Adrian Izzaguire. After the ball bounced around inside the box, Celanti came sprinting forward and struck the ball into the lower left corner of the goal.

No. 3 Newfield (16-1-1) fought off consistent pressure from the Eagles, as Shawn Coles’ speed made him difficult to mark. But a back line of John Alves, Jarret Meyer, Alex Rosa and Izzaguire held strong and kept most of the pressure off goalkeeper Loui Chen, who made eight saves.

“We just came here knowing we had to play harder than they did,” Alves said.

Newfield struck again in the 67th minute when Nick Gomez headed in a well-placed free kick by Mike DiDominoco.

Next up is No. 4 Brentwood in the Suffolk AA final, which will be played at Diamond in the Pines on Thursday at 7 p.m.

A steady approach spearheaded by Celanti up front has the Wolverines in position to make more history with their first county title. And in position to send Celanti more thank-yous.

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