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Noelle Zimmermann makes big saves as Port Jefferson advances to 'B' final

Port Jefferson's Jillian Colucci #7 celebrates with teammates

Port Jefferson's Jillian Colucci #7 celebrates with teammates after scoring on a penalty kick against Babylon in the Suffolk Class B final at the Dowling Sports Complex on Nov. 3, 2014. Credit: Daniel De Mato

HOMER, N.Y. - Heavy is the crown. But not the one that Noelle Zimmermann was wearing.

Hers wasn't made of gold. It was cardboard. And it wasn't from some castle. It was from Burger King.

She climbed into the stands after the game and a Royals fan placed it atop her head to celebrate what was the crowning achievement of her short varsity career. Zimmermann made two diving stops in penalty kicks, giving the Port Jefferson girls soccer team a 3-2 shootout win over Aquinas in a Class B state semifinal Saturday at Homer High School.

"My teammates were counting on me," Zimmermann said, "and I didn't want to let them down."

A little background information on Zimmermann: She's only a junior but is the oldest player on a very young team. And she was the backup keeper until Brianna Scarda suffered a knee injury late in the regular season, thrusting Zimmermann into a starting role.

Zimmermann made eight saves in regulation and overtime, which ended in a tie at 2. With the shootout also tied entering the fifth round, Jillian Colucci fired into the upper right corner of the net to give Port Jefferson a 3-2 advantage. Zimmermann then approached the line, one save away from sending Port Jefferson to its first state title game in program history.

Aquinas' Lindsey Brinkel shot a low bouncer to the right of Zimmermann, who dove and punched the ball away, setting off a wild celebration.

"We are making history," said defender Corinne Scannell, who scored in the third round of penalty kicks to give Port Jefferson a 2-1 advantage. "Even when we have been down, we keep our composure and come back in the end."

The latest comeback was ignited by Colucci, who scored the tying goal less than four minutes after Aquinas took a 1-0 lead. Lexi Van Overberghe sent a header into the box, bringing goalkeeper Kelsey Brinkel off her line. Colucci charged in, got to the ball first and fired past Brinkel to even the score at 1 with 19:53 remaining.

Colucci, a sophomore forward who is Long Island's leading scorer with 29 goals, netted the go-ahead goal just 40 seconds later. She carried the ball down the left wing and rolled a left-footed shot just inside the far post, giving Port Jeff a 2-1 lead with 19:13 to go.

Port Jefferson (16-2-2) moves on to face Bronxville Sunday at 3 p.m. at Cortland University.

"We have to play our game and make everyone know who Port Jeff is," Colucci said. "As young as we are, we can do it."

Young as they are, they showed resilience. Even when Adrianna Russell sent a chip shot over Zimmermann to pull Aquinas (13-6-3) even at 2 with 4:13 remaining, there was no panic.

"We don't give up under any circumstances," said Olivia Love, who opened the shootout with a goal. "It feels amazing, especially because we all thought it was going to be a rebuilding year and we wouldn't get here."

But they are here. And a big reason why is Zimmermann, who went from a backup to . . . well, the queen of Port Jefferson for a day.

"I'm so happy to get this opportunity," Zimmermann said. "Now we're one win away from winning Port Jeff's first state championship."

Or better yet, from being crowned.

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