Juan Cardona leapt up as high as he could, arms outstretched above him, and just let his fingertips graze the ball as it deflected up and over the net. On the corner kick that followed, his defense batted away any attempt to strike toward the goal.
“I saw the player getting ready to shoot from far distance, so I was ready for it, but when the ball was in the air, I couldn’t tell if it was going over or if it was going to go in,” the goalkeeper said. “I just let myself go and got a touch on it. Once I saw the ball going over the post I was relieved, because I did not want to lose tonight.”
These were just a couple of Cardona and his Hampton Bays (6-4-1) team’s fearless attempts to stay in the game during the first of two 10-minute golden goal periods that resulted in a 0-0 tie against Babylon Thursday, October 10.
Cardona made eight saves in total. He’s also a sophomore who, only a handful of games ago, was given the starting role.
“I worked really hard for it since preseason, and I’m just happy to give out my best every single game,” Cardona said. “We all just focus in always putting our best work out on the field and handling adversity in some way.”
Hampton Bays was up against a lot of it especially in the second half. With the wind and rain against them, the boys struggled to get the ball past midfield, and had the same trouble to start the first of two 10-minute sudden death overtime periods. Being down a player also didn’t help.
“It was a little bit of a mess of a game,” Hampton Bays head coach Scott Garofola said. “We lost our captain and leader Milan Moraga in the first half. I think it threw us off a little bit. He created a lot of our offense, and we play a lot through him, so our continuity wasn’t there. The rain pushed that as well.”
But a main part of the game is capitalizing off your opponent’s mistakes, and neither team really made any. When Hampton Bays pushed through Babylon’s back line, made up entirely of captains, Noah Kowalewsky (four saves) was there to stop the threat. And when Babylon’s (6-5-2) offense got through, Cardona made the save.
“Given the weather he made a couple of key saves that we needed,” Garofola said. “He continues to make at least one big save per game. That one that had him on his toes, that was a big save. You need one or two of those per game and he’s able to give them to us.”
The sophomore said he thought back to his team’s rain-soaked and wind-whipped game against Center Moriches September 26, where his team came out on top 1-0. He knew if his team couldn’t put one away earlier like it did in that game, he can also rely on his Baymen in the back to help him hold it down.
“Playing in this type of weather is never easy, but I feel like against both Center Moriches and Babylon we were able to handle it, even when the rain made the ball go faster, and sometimes it was impossible to get to a ball because of that,” Cardona said. “But I didn’t worry about the weather so much, I was just focused on the game. And I wasn’t the only reason why we were still in it. They mostly tried to center the ball into the box and send runs, but my defense played really solid against Babylon’s attacks and kept blocking them, not allowing them to have enough space or opportunities to score.”
While Hampton Bays is still restructuring from its loss of senior leadership on last year’s squad, the head coach said his team is starting to figure out what it takes to win games, and how to grind some out even when play isn’t at its best level. The Baymen will use that mentality heading into Saturday’s game against undefeated Southampton (11-0).
“Southampton is tough,” Garofola said. “They’re a real good squad this year, they’re experienced, but again I think it’s one of those games where if you can get good energy early, and maybe hit the back of the net early, it could change the whole complexion.”
Hampton Bays was shut out by Southampton 5-0 back on September 16, but Cardona wasn’t in goal then, and going up against a tough opponent won deter him or cloud his focus.
“We are focused on making the playoffs, so we take every game seriously,” Cardona said. “We have come together in a way where we could call ourselves brothers — our chemistry is on point, which sometimes comes out on the field. We are a solid team that can make it far when bring our ‘A’ game.”