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Kayla Leary's redemption lifts East Meadow into Class AA final

Alyssa Vega #11, Ella Foster #4, Kayla Leary

Alyssa Vega #11, Ella Foster #4, Kayla Leary #19, Rachel Rose #5 of East Meadow celebrate the goal against Baldwin during the girls soccer Class AA semifinal on Oct. 28, 2018 in Cold Spring Harbor, New York. Credit: Anna Sergeeva

Kayla Leary didn’t just want the chance at redemption. She needed it.

After the East Meadow senior captain and returning Newsday All-Long Island defender sent a penalty kick off the crossbar in the opening minutes of a Nassau AA girls soccer semifinal Sunday, Leary was determined to find another opportunity and capitalize.

Midway through the first half, she got her chance. And she wouldn’t miss it again.

Leary headed in a corner kick from Hailey Dazzo with 20:32 remaining in the first half for the game’s first goal in No. 2 East Meadow’s 2-1 victory over No. 3 Baldwin in the Nassau AA semifinals Sunday at Cold Spring Harbor High School.

“I was just happy to redeem myself because I knew we really needed it and we never actually scored against them,” Leary said. “So it was a nice feeling.”

And East Meadow coach Adam Hananel said he knew Leary would make a game-changing play and wouldn’t let an early setback get to her.

“I had no doubt that she was going to keep playing,” he said. “That’s just the type of girl she is. She’s the ultimate competitor, she’s a warrior. I wouldn’t trade her for anybody.”

East Meadow (12-2-3) and Baldwin (8-5-2) played a scoreless tie and the Jets suffering a 2-0 loss during the regular season. But with Sunday’s win, the Jets advance to play No. 5 Syosset Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Cold Spring Harbor for the Nassau AA title -- which would be its first championship since 1990, according to Newsday records.

“All year we’ve talked about how this is our time,” Hananel said. “It’s been kind of our montra.”

East Meadow lost in last season’s semifinals, and has been looking forward to the chance to take this season further.

“We really wanted to get back here and finally make it,” said goalkeeper Stephanie Sparkowski, who had three saves. “It’s been a really long time since we’ve made it.”

East Meadow added its second goal with Emma Terino leading a run down the right sideline, cutting toward the goal and scoring 35:17 remaining in the game to take a 2-0 lead.

“I was really not thinking, I was just going with the flow,” Terino said. “And honestly, I just felt a release of adrenaline and I just went with whatever happened.”

The Jets, with the help of the backline of Scarlett Espinosa, Mary Boyle, Rachel Rose and Leary, limited Baldwin’s scoring chances, but the Bruins broke through with a goal from Janelle Harty off a scramble in front of the net with 3:19 remaining in the game to cut East Meadow’s lead to 2-1.

Now, the Jets look to prove Tuesday that they are ready for the big moment.

“It was so much more motivation because last year the game didn’t end the way we wanted to,” Sparkowski said. “But we thought this year we had a really good shot and it was our time to make it there.”

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