After consecutive seasons of falling shy of the playoffs, the Shoreham-Wading River boys soccer team knew that this season would be different.
For Austin Hutchins, the realization followed a 3-2 loss to John Glenn -- currently ranked No. 2 in Class A in the state -- after leading 2-0 at halftime on September 19.
For Doug DeMaio, it was after his first varsity hat trick in a victory against East Hampton -- the four-time defending Suffolk League VI champions -- on September 11.
It was realization that a first playoff appearance for every player on the team except DeMaio was theirs for the taking. A realization that the team was going to play beyond the final game of the regular season. "There's not one other kid on this team that's seen playoffs," Hutchins said, "so this whole season, the drive was to make playoffs."
The Wildcats accomplished their postseason goals with four games remaining in the regular season. Now they'll head into the playoffs after a 10-win season, which included a second-place finish in Suffolk VI at 9-1-2 after ending their season with a 5-1 victory against Bayport-Blue Point Tuesday.
The senior-rich squad -- 15 of 25 players are seniors -- doesn't have captains. Before each game, head coach Andrew Moschetti and his assistant coach Raul Munoz select the players who wear the captain band based on play in previous games and practices.
It helps encourage everything Moschetti believes in. Hard work and competition.
"I say to a lot of guys," Moschetti says, "we might get out-skilled by some teams but I will guarantee you that we will never get outworked and that sometimes means more than having all the skill in the world."
There may be no better example than the two games against powerhouse Glenn. After losing 3-2 in mid-September, the Wildcats responded with a 2-2 tie against Glenn in a lightning-shorted game on October 9. Shoreham-Wading River led 2-1 in the second half, before Glenn scored and the game was called with about 18 minutes remaining due to the storm. Glenn finished its season undefeated at 14-0-2 and 10-0-2 in the league.
DeMaio is convinced the teams will meet again.
"I think that it's foreshadowing for the future," said DeMaio, who leads the teams with 10 goals. "I think we'll be the ones to defeat them. It's mainly our fault we lost the first game. We were up two goals so we pretty much want to get revenge and take what's ours."
The Wildcats were picked ninth in Class A in the preseason coaching rankings, meaning falling just shy of a playoff spot for the third consecutive season. That's not how their player saw this season unfolding.
"Having that defeat and that pain really helps us succeed this year," DeMaio said. "And losing to John Glenn that one game also had us feeling that pain that will hopefully stride us to greatness this year."
"People come out like, 'Oh it's just Shoreham-Wading River,'" Hutchins said. "We just want playoffs and want to be able to show everyone what we can do."
Hutchins has been a key member of a defense that allowed 13 goals this season -- the third-fewest in Suffolk Class A. His other defensemen, fellow seniors Kieran Clasen and Michael Donegan, have played on varsity together since 10th grade. Together, they've helped first-year varsity goalkeeper, Nick Cusano, record five shutouts this season.
The team has rallied around being an underdog all season. But once playoffs start, the Wildcats won't be surprising anybody.
"We talked about it. All these teams, Miller Place, John Glenn getting ranked and stuff and we got none of that," Moschetti said. "We don't need it. I like being the underdog. We don't have the target on our back, they all do."
That will change next week.