Adrian Gilmore would get the chills watching Lydia Kessel in goal as a middle schooler.
The Shoreham-Wading River coach got the chills again Wednesday night at Dowling, but for a different reason. Well, not entirely. Kessel, now a freshman, played a big role again.
The No. 2 Wildcats (18-0-1) doused their coach in chilly water to celebrate their program's first county soccer championship since 1987, a 1-0 defeat of No. 1 Sayville in Suffolk Class A on Alex Kuhnle's goal. Kessel made 14 saves, displaying game smarts that belied her youth.
"Seeing her play in seventh and eighth grade I knew she was something special," Gilmore said. "My dad comes to every game and I would be like, 'Wait until you see this kid.' She has exceeded my expectations in every single way."
Trailing 1-0 at halftime, Sayville (15-1-3) dominated possession after the break. The Golden Flashes earned six corners in the period and constantly applied pressure on the Wildcats' defense.
"I said to the girls, 'You know that if they're up a goal or down a goal they're never going to give up until the last minute,'" Gilmore said.
Sayville's best opportunity materialized on a free kick from 40 yards out in the 64th minute. Sayville got a good look in the box, but Kessel came out of goal and dove on the ball.
"I was thinking just get the ball out of the 18," Kessel said.
Five minutes later, she made a clutch stop after a Sayville throw-in from near the corner. Then she denied a 30-yard rocket in the 72nd minute.
In other words, she did what she has done all season -- the Wildcats have posted 16 shutouts.
"I'm not scared with Lydia in the back," Kuhnle said. "It's a good feeling, knowing you have someone as good as her in goal."
With Kessel in goal, the Wildcats knew they might need just one score to earn a Saturday date in the Long Island championship against South Side.
Kuhnle provided that punch, using her deft footwork to advance down the left side and fire a ball toward the center.
"I just wanted to play it in and let someone have a chance," she said.
But the ball had a different idea, settling high inside the far post and giving the Wildcats a 1-0 lead in the 31st minute.
"Thank God it happened," Kuhnle said.
And for the win, the Wildcats also can thank Kessel.