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Port Chester's bid for its first state title fell just short on Sunday at Middletown's Faller Field complex.
The Rams (19-2-2) were unable to overcome an early 2-0 deficit and fell to Long Island powerhouse Jericho, 2-1, in the NYS Class A championship. It marked the second straight state title for the Jayhawks, who finished the year at 20-1-1.
"(Jericho) is the defending state champs and they showed why," Port Chester coach John Cafaldo said. "They came out and had a lot of energy. I told my guys that we had to withstand the first 10 minutes. They got the two goals there and it got to us. We fought back but we got tired at the end and couldn't put that equalizer in."
Zach Cohen gave Jericho a 1-0 lead just one minute and 49 seconds into the match, ripping a shot into the lower right corner of the net. Ajani Motta made it 2-0 in the 10th minute on a counterattack.
Senior captain Bryan Suertegaray tallied Port Chester's lone goal in the 12th minute, heading in a precise corner from Alexis Valdovinos to trim the deficit to 2-1.
Despite getting out to a slow start, the Rams dominated the final 30 minutes of the first half, outshooting Jericho 8-5 while taking seven corner kicks.
"The first 10 minutes we were the better team and for the next 50 to 60 minutes (Port Chester) gave it to us and dominated," Jericho keeper Ari Lewis said.
The Rams' best shot at producing the equalizer came inside the final five minutes of the first half. Lewis misplayed a ball and was briefly out of the net, however, he amazingly recovered to make three straight saves with what looked like three different body parts — leg, arm and back.
"The ball took a deflection and I didn't know if it was in," said Lewis, who finished with 10 saves. "I lost my bearing a bit so I blocked it. I got up quickly, blocked it again, it hit a defender and I blocked it again and then I picked it up. "I don't know what happened. It was a heat of the moment thing — just instincts."
Cafaldo was shocked the ball didn't find the back of the net.
"I thought we were going to tie it up down there, but that kid made some great saves," the coach said.
Port Chester freshman phenom Steven Hernandez didn't start the match after injuring his right arm in Saturday's semifinal win over Fowler. But he sprang up off the bench immediately after Jericho took an early 1-0 lead. Hernandez's heavily-bandaged right arm clung to his side — almost like a sling — as he ran onto the pitch.
"We talked about him starting (the match) earlier in the day, because I didn't want to push him out there if he was uncomfortable," Cafaldo said. "He said he was all right."
Jericho's defense collapsed on Hernandez every time he touched the ball. The Jayhawks — a bigger and stronger squad — used their physicality to erase Port Chester's biggest weapon.
The physical nature of the match took its toll on the Rams. Preston Higgins, Alexis Valdovinos and Luis Morales were all banged up at different points.
"We got tired and they were physical," Cafaldo said. "It wore on us a little bit. We didn't hang our heads or give up, so that's a good thing."
While the Rams came up a game short of their ultimate goal, they still had a historic season. They captured their first sectional title since 1995 and went further than any other team in program history.
With Hernandez and a host of other key starters slated to return in 2013, Port Chester should be a legit contender for the foreseeable future.
"We are going to get back at it," Cafaldo said. "We have a young team and most of our starters are underclassmen. We have a few key guys that we are going to have to replace in the back, but we will be working at it. Now that we've been here and we have experienced it, maybe the guys will learn from it."
Email Isaac Cass at Icass@cablevision.com | Follow him on Twitter @MSGV_Icass