Monday, November 15, 2010

Suffolk Wins NJCAA Soccer Championship

Suffolk Wins NJCAA Soccer Championship: The season ended the same way it started for Suffolk County and Herkimer County community colleges.

Suffolk’s Clippers defeated Herkimer’s Generals 2-1 on their home field Sunday and claimed their first NJCAA championship. The win capped an undefeated season for Suffolk which defeated Herkimer 3-2 in overtime to open the season.

“I knew at that point that we had something special,” Suffolk coach Frank Vertullo said, reflecting on the teams’ first meeting in August at Tompkins-Cortland Community College. “(Herkimer is) the program that every other junior college strives to be.”

To win the Division III championship, the Clippers first had to beat Richland College from Texas 1-0 in Friday’s semifinals. Richland and Herkimer had won nine of the previous 11 national championships and Herkimer’s appearance Sunday extended to 12 the number of years at least one of the two premier programs was a finalist.

Each team got a goal early in the championship match and the teams went to the halftime break tied at 1. The Generals, winners of 21 consecutive matches since that initial loss to Suffolk, came out on the offensive in the second half. Region III Player of the Year Joel Purkiss took a cross from Mike Roopchandsingh and rolled a shot wide of the right post five minutes in. A short time later, Clipper Athanasio Vlahos-Kitas headed a throw-in from Elliott Hockley across the end line; Cody Farrier’s attempt at a bicycle kick on the ensuing corner kick also went wide to the right and the teams remained tied.

Herkimer kept the pressure on but a stingy Suffolk defense and goalkeeper Jesse Nulty, the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, stood up to its challenges until the Clippers broke out on a rush to the far end of the field. A mishit on the attempt to clear by the Generals left the ball in front of the goal and Dimas Escobar banged it into the net for his second goal of the contest and a 2-1 lead.

“In the second half we took control of the game,” Herkimer coach Pepe Aragon said. “… To start to get our confidence up and then give them that second goal, that destroyed us.”

Aragon felt both Suffolk goals were more a reflection of his team’s mistakes than Suffolk’s offensive skills.

“We gave them their two goals,” he said.

Once it had regained the lead, Suffolk turned back to its strength — defense. Nulty was credited with three saves for the Clippers who were outshot 8-5 overall and 5-2 in the second half. Purkiss put a running header over the crossbar in the 62nd minute and the time began to run out on the Generals. Herkimer compounded its problems when with 13:07 showing on the game clock Farrior drew a red card for kicking the ankle of an opposing player. Farrior was on the ground and a foul had already been whistled when he took a swipe at the leg of a passing opponent in front of a referee.

Forced to play one man and one goal down, the Generals remained the aggressors and almost got the break they needed in the 80th minute. Purkiss, who had tallied both Herkimer goals when the teams met previously, booted the ball toward the goal from more than 40 yards away, hoping to catch Nulty out of position. Nulty glided to the right post and leapt to catch the ball but had it bounce instead off his shoulder and just over the crossbar, a lucky break for the Clippers and not such a lucky one for the Generals who failed to generate a shot with the subsequent corner kick.

“Sometimes you need to be a little lucky,” Nulty said. “That kid took a hell of a shot. He’s a heck of a player.”

Another foul evened the teams up with less than six minutes left to play. Zachious Agoo, a standout defender for the Clippers, took Roopchandsingh down about one foot outside the box and was given a yellow card, his second of the game. Purkiss took the direct kick and sent the ball wide to the right yet again.

Nulty broke up a play on one last Herkimer corner kick with 2 1/2 minutes left to play and the Generals watched the final moments tick away, missing out on a final opportunity when Roopchandsingh chased a long pass to the end line but was unable to keep the ball in bounds.

Suffolk had struck first in the first half, getting a goal from Escobar 6:28 into the match. Joe Digiglio was credited with assists on both of Escobar’s goals.

Herkimer tied the score at the end of the 16th minute when Jonathon Rosscraig scored with an assist from Roopchandsingh. Rosscraig’s goal snapped a shutout streak that extended back eight matches for the Clippers and included a 4-0 quarterfinal win against Bunker Hill Community College Thursday as well as Friday’s win against Richland.

“That’s what makes it more special,” Vertullo said. “To beat Richland and Herkimer shows what we’re doing here and what we’re building.”

Suffolk opened the season ranked ninth in the nation and entered the national tournament as the No. 1 seed. The Clippers had not previously played in a national championship match.

The result gnawed at Aragon who coached Herkimer to the two most recent of its seven national championships in soccer.

“Suffolk didn’t beat us. We beat ourselves today.”

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