Could the Suffolk Class A playoffs serve as platform for a running of the Bulls? If the last two games of the regular season can be considered a harbinger, it’s possible.
Smithtown East (14-2) finished as well as a team could’ve hoped – with an assist going to the schedule. They squared off against previously-undefeated Sachem East on Monday, and beat them 3-1, then wrapped up with a 2-0 win over host Ward Melville on Wednesday.
“To beat two teams like that gives the team a lot of confidence and momentum going into the playoffs,” Bulls coach Ann Naughton said. “Especially Ward Melville, because they're the defending champs.”
Five-time defending champs, to be exact. And part of that “especially” could have something to do with the teams’ longstanding rivalry. Smithtown East, in 2006, was the last team before the Patriots to win the county title. And they were a top seed and finalist as recently as 2009.
This season has belonged to Sachem East. The Flaming Arrows got off to a 14-0 start and looked unstoppable… until Smithtown East stopped them. Dani Ackerman (18 points) had a goal and an assist and Ericka Parks made six saves in the win.
“It gave us a lot of confidence knowing not only that we can beat a great team, but we put three [goals] in the net,” said Naughton, adding that her offense has worked extensively on its passing patterns.
The difference between its recent meeting with Ward Melville and the one on Oct. 4 (which the Patriots won, 1-0) was hustle, Naughton said. “I wanted them to be prepared and be mentally tougher,” she said. “We needed to get those 50/50 balls and dictate the tone. For the most part, I think we did.”
Goals by Shannon Rooney and Mackenzie Buckley were the difference, and the Bulls’ lockdown defense required Parks to make just one save for the shutout.
Speaking of defense: Smithtown East has nine shutouts and they’ve allowed seven goals in 16 games this season. No math required to know that’s impressive.
Much of the credit for that goes to Parks, a first-year starter replacing star goalie Lauren Brennan. “Ericka's been doing a fantastic job,” the coach said. “She's level-headed and has a very calm demeanor… She's been an [anchor] back there and she's not afraid to tell the defense what to do and take charge.”
On the offensive side, Megan Rooney has been a force. The forward is Long Island’s second leading scorer with 26 points (13 assists). “She's definitely a scorer,” Naughton said, “but she also has good vision and sets up her team… She draws double teams, which creates opportunities for teammates. She's a big player for us and I know other teams are concerned about her.”
Smithtown East enters the playoffs on an eight-game win streak and will be the No. 2 seed in Class A. They’ll face the winner of the West Islip/Commack game in the quarterfinals on Nov. 2.
“We have a lot of seniors in our lineup,” Naughton said. The Bulls have 10 seniors; eight of them starters. “The season is winding down and the reality of that has them wanting to make everything count.”