Peter Bralower gathered his Sacred Heart players around him before sending them out to face a girls soccer powerhouse.
"As an athlete, as a soccer player, you want this opportunity," the Spartans’ coach told them. "You want to play the best."
It’s just that St. Anthony’s is the best of the best right now — Newsday’s top-ranked team across all fall sports. The program has claimed the last four NSCHSAA AA tournament titles and three straight CHSAA state crowns. It hasn’t lost to an NSCHSAA team since it fell to Sacred Heart in the league final five years ago.
And the Friars arrived for Friday’s regular-season finale with a 30-game winning streak.
Make it 31. Emily Riggins scored twice, and St. Anthony’s pulled away after the intermission, posting a 5-0 road win.
So the Friars (16-0, 10-0) are the No. 1 seed in the NSCHAA tournament, which begins with the semifinals next Friday. Sacred Heart (8-4-2, 7-3) is No. 2.
But as Bralower said afterward, "They’re just on another level."
They’re also good at handling the pressure that comes from the past achievements, the undefeated record and being expected to win.
"We never put that in our head the entire time because we don’t want that to get to our heads," Riggins said. "So we play our game."
The senior midfielder provided a lead just 2:04 in, getting to a 50-50 ball in the box and kicking it in.
Sacred Heart hung in behind Kate Boyle, who stood out with 10 saves.
"My goalie had her best game of the year," Bralower said.
But Riggins finally beat her again, sailing in a high shot from long range with 29:06 left.
Then in the final seven minutes, Olivia Perez curled in a corner kick, Samantha D’Angelo followed with a goal, and Eva LaVecchia cashed in a penalty kick.
The defense finished with its 11th shutout. There was only one shot that required a save.
"I think that everybody just works together," senior center back Sonni Adams said, explaining St. Anthony’s overall success. "There’s no ‘I’ in team, and I think that the whole entire team understands that."
On to the postseason.
"I think we’re in a good position," Friars coach Sue Alber said. "… I think it’s good momentum going into the playoffs. But like I just told them earlier, it’s a new season."