Lakeland shows heart of a champion
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With 10 minutes left in Saturday's Section 1 Class A championship game, Lakeland keeper Steven Reiche turned toward the goal and started having a one-way conversation with the net.
“I'm not gonna let you get hurt,” Reiche said to the white twine.
The senior keeper lived up to his promise, preserving No. 7-seeded Lakeland's miraculous 1-0 win over previously undefeated and No. 1-seeded Port Chester (18-1-1) at SUNY Purchase.
“As weird as it sounds, I actually did that,” Reiche said, recalling his net-to-man moment.
Against the No. 1-ranked Class A team in NYS, the Hornets needed every advantage possible — real or imagined. Port Chester had far more skill and just as much athleticism, so Lakeland (14-4-2) was forced to get by on pure guts.
“The talk coming in was that we were the weaker team and we didn't like that very much,” said Reiche, who recorded 10 saves to earn his 12th shutout of the year. “We knew we had to play our hearts out. We just came here and did what we had to do to get that win.”
And the Hornets wasted little time working toward it, scoring just one minute and 14 seconds into regulation. Senior striker Sebastian Marquez tallied the goal on a header off an assist from junior midfielder Gonzalo Prando, who beautifully chipped a free kick 35 yards toward the far post. It was Marquez's team-high 10th goal and Prando's team-high eighth assist.
“Me and Gonzalo have that thing where I look in his eye and he looks in my eye and he knows the ball is coming to me,” Marquez said. “I just flicked it in the back of the net.”
While virtually the entire game was left, Reiche sensed a victory the moment Marquez scored.
“I knew we had this game early,” said Reiche, an all-section talent who has averaged 5.75 saves a game during the playoffs. “I knew (Port Chester) had never been trailing at halftime. I knew one goal would differentiate the game for us.”
But that didn't mean it was easy. Port Chester threw the kitchen sink at Lakeland's defense, attacking every which way imaginable. The Rams fired a total of 26 shots and had 11 corner kick opportunities. In comparison, the Hornets managed just nine shots and three corner kicks.
In the 15 minutes following Lakeland's goal, Port Chester played almost exclusively in the Hornets' end of the field, creating a seemingly never-ending stream of chances.
The barrage forced Lakeland coach Tim Hourahan to make an adjustment. In what turned out to be a genius move, Hourahan put feisty and fearless defender Jon Pinto on senior forward/midfielder Kevin Riveros, who is arguably Port Chester's most dangerous player.
“(Pinto) did a fantastic job,” said Hourahan, who added that the sophomore was the team's best one-on-one defender. “I think he frustrated (Riveros). I think that's the first time he's been against a defense like that all year.”
It was a menacing form of defense, for sure. Pinto basically became Riveros' shadow, concentrating more on his man than the ball. Reiche summed it up perfectly.
“Man-marking Riveros with (Pinto) was like sending the secret service on him,” he said.
Hourahan — looking to tack on another goal — went with more offensive players to start the second half and kept Pinto on the bench. But that lasted all of 10 minutes, as Riveros burned Lakeland down the sideline and came inches from producing the equalizer. At that moment, Pinto was brought back in the game.
“When we put Pinto in in the second half with 30 minutes left, I saw (Riveros') face and he was like, 'Oh, here we go,'” Hourahan said.
As the final minutes ticked down, Hourahan made another brilliant chess move. He went to his bench and inserted senior captain Andrew Mitgang, who came out early in the first half after tweaking his knee, which was badly injured in the semifinal win over Pelham.
“This kid may or may not have something torn in his knee,” Hourahan said. “But he wasn't staying out of this game. Me putting him in the last three minutes was just to get the emotion of my team up and finish the game off.”
As the boisterous green and yellow crowd chanted Mitgang's name, the Hornets got a second wind and finished off the upset heard 'round the state.
“(Mitgang) kept telling me, 'Get me another game, get me another game,” Marquez said. “And that's what I did. We have another game. We have practice on Monday to get ready for the regionals.”
The Hornets will travel to Middletown's Faller Field to square off against Section 9's Goshen on November 9 at 6 p.m.
And Lakeland's quite familiar with the venue. The Hornets scrimmaged Middletown High School in the preseason. Prior to the start of the scrimmage, Hourahan had a message for his team.
“If we win the sectional final, we get to play here,” he said to his players at the time.
For Hourahan — a seven-year veteran who had lost in the sectional finals in 2006 and '07 — it was finally mission accomplished.
Now, he's ready for the next challenge.
“Lakeland has never won a state game,” the coach said. “This is our school's fourth sectional title and we are going to win our first state game on Wednesday.”
Email Isaac Cass at Icass@cablevision.com | Follow him on Twitter @MSGV_Icass