Gene Buonaiuto held up the plaque, and the 83-year-old coach’s players joyously jumped up and down around him on the St. John’s turf. There could be no better way for him to head off into retirement, with happiness on his face and a championship trophy in his hands.
The St. Anthony’s boys varsity soccer players made it happen for Buonaiuto, the rest of the staff and themselves Sunday against Archbishop Molloy. In the final game of Buonaiuto’s 35-year varsity run, the Friars gave him his fifth CHSAA state title and first since 2014 with a 3-0 win over the Stanners at Belson Stadium.
“It means a lot,” Buonaiuto said. “This is sweet, to go out this way. It’s great.”
Buonaiuto has coached the varsity since 1985 and been with the program since 1977. Regarding his retirement, he said, “I’ll be 84 in February, so I figured it’s time.”
The Long Island champs gave Buonaiuto his retirement present by breaking free from the Brooklyn/Queens champs in the second half, during which they scored all three goals, including a pair by senior striker Jake Donahue.
“We played the whole game for him,” Donahue said. “It was all for him. We knew we had to win for him, and that was an awesome feeling.”
The first goal came 9:01 into that second half. Donahue buried a rebound after Brendan Ferguson stopped Nick Giannola’s shot from the right side of the box.
Donahue added another with 19:50 remaining. Julian Wicik took out more insurance, scoring from in front with 8:28 left.
“We played as a team, and everybody was calm,” Donahue said. “We’re just a championship team. That’s it.”
When it was still 2-0, Christian Micheli made two sensational saves to keep it that way, including a leap to deflect a shot over the bar. The junior goalkeeper also deflected a lot of credit.
“Our defense was amazing,” Micheli said. “They’ve been amazing all season. I’m happy that we were able to keep a clean sheet for the last game.”
The chances kept coming for St. Anthony’s in the first half. The goals did not.
“Our game plan was to really come out and put them on their heels, and I think to a large measure we did that,” assistant coach Don Corrao said. “But it’s a funny game. It took a little while.”
Archbishop Molloy coach Andy Kostel rued a few missed opportunities, but he said that “St. Anthony’s carried most of the play,” and he praised its coach.
“Gene and I have been coaching against each other for years,” Kostel said. “He’s the winningest coach and the best coach on Long Island, and I consider myself pretty good for New York. So I want to wish him the best in his retirement.”
Buonaiuto’s final team shined brightly in the postseason and finished 16-7-2.
“They just came through,” Buonaiuto said. “We went through a tough spell there for a little bit [during the regular season]. Then once they came back, there was no stopping them.”