By Mitch Silver

Has there ever been a Rye Neck Boys’ Soccer team with a defense this good?

The 2017 edition of a storied program stoned all comers to win the Sectional Class B title without allowing a goal in tournament play. The capper came Saturday morning, when the fourth-seeded Panthers traveled to Lakeland High and topped the number-two seeds from Briarcliff by 1-0 ...fittingly, by an own goal.

After 80 minutes of scoreless back-and-forth play, Jonathan Casas found himself with a corner kick in the first minute of OT. His effort reached Spencer Goldberg’s head and then the crossbar before deflecting off the goalkeeper and into the back of the net. Then Rye Neck squelched every Briarcliff effort the rest of the way for their first Sectional title since 2014.

Few people saw this coming. Head Coach Bryan Iacovelli and his assistant, Ivan Martinez, inherited a squad in September without stalwart starters Luis Galeano, Pierre and Noah Klur, Tim Kelley, Reed Peterson, and Fraser Shaw all lost to graduation. What the Hornidge Road boys <did> have was a pair of veteran goalkeepers in Tom Bermingham and Guillermo Pons, a hard-working, go-for-everything forward in Jack Sheldon, and a solid core of returning players.

Perhaps the biggest change from 2016 was the move of winger Donovan Dunning to the middle of the field. Dunning has made the position his own, using his speed and athleticism, as well as his soccer smarts, to knit the back line and forwards together. Has it paid off? Has it ever.

Seeded behind the Killer B’s of Blind Brook and Briarcliff thanks to a few mid-season overtime losses, the Panthers started slowly in their playoff opener against Westlake before a late Jon Casas goal on a set piece from 25 yards out broke the tie. Sheldon added the clincher with 10 seconds left when he flicked a free kick from Thomas Crook off his head. Bermingham had six saves for the winners.

The second-round game against Putnam Valley might have ended in the same 2-0 score, but it was entirely different. Dunning (“Double D”) picked up a loose ball off a corner kick on the left side of the box and perfectly placed it past the far post with just a minute gone in the contest. Jack Sheldon, that man again, headed in a Casas corner in the 15th minute of the second half to ice the win. Goalie Guillermo Pons only had to make one save.

The Blind Brook semifinal, delayed a day by rain, was going to be tough. Not only would it be played at the home of their archrivals, the Trojans were the top seeds in Class B. But the Panthers had defeated Blind Brook 2-1 October 12 and were confident going in.

After weathering some early attacks, Rye Neck was knocking on the door a half-hour into the game and appeared to go ahead when Thomas Hendrickx launched a left-footed kick that hit the twine behind the goalie. The twine it hit wasn’t the back of the net, though. The ball had sailed just over the crossbar and hit the soft fencing beyond.

The Panthers would score for real with just a minute left in the half when Sheldon turned the opposing right back inside out and sent one into the mixer that Jon Casas converted.

Fifteen minutes after the break, Rye Neck’s striker got one for himself. Rising above three Blind Brook defenders he must have jumped for 20 headers throughout the game Sheldon got just enough of the ball to pop it over the desperate fingers of the goalkeeper. And then it was on to the finals.

Rye Neck met Rhinebeck, the champions of Section 9, post-press time. The 15-3-1 Hawks beat Marlboro, Fallsburg, and Dover to win their first title since 2014, just like Rye Neck. The Panthers, meanwhile, are 7-0-2 since their last loss and haven’t allowed a goal in their last 464 minutes of play.

The winner plays the Long Island champions, either Wheatley or Center Moriches, tomorrow.

 

Center back Thomas Crook uses his head to break up a play.

Colin Kelley fights to maintain possession.