By Desirée Keegan
A tornado has swept through Miller Place.
After getting opportunity after opportunity, the Harborfields boys’ soccer team finally put the ball in the back of the net to claim a 1-0 win over Miller Place Sept. 20, when forward Danny Zihal headed a Marco LaRocca throw-in into the left side of the net.
“It was getting late in the game and I knew somebody had to step up, so as a captain of the team, I wanted to lead my guys,” Zihal, a senior, said. “This team, they’re my brothers and I just love playing with them. The celebration was great — it just felt like winning — but then you have to get back out there and start defending.”
The team didn’t have to play much defense though, as the Tornadoes continued to fight for another goal in the final 15 minutes.
“Putting pressure on the backs and winning first touches helps you win the ball back and get more chances,” Zihal said. “We just have to put the ball in the back of the net and finish things earlier. We had a lot of chances.”
That weight Harborfields placed on Miller Place is something Harborfields head coach D.J. Greening said he’s been preaching to his players.
“We’ve been telling them all year that they have to keep pressing to finally put teams away, and we did,” he said. “They worked hard, we developed the ball well and got a lot of opportunities, it’s just tough to finish. We’ve also been especially emphasizing to move the ball quickly and change the point of attack, and I think we did that better in the second half, which made it a little more difficult for them to press and get their opportunities on transition.”
But on the same side of the field where the ball was kept most of the game, shined a young star in the making.
Miller Place’s sophomore goalkeeper Desmond Totillo, who was called up from the junior varsity level because junior Kyle Korade was out sick, made multiple stops while coming out to grab possession during plays, to maintain the 0-0 score for as long as he could.
“I was a little shaky at the beginning, but got better throughout the game,” Totillo said. “I thought we played good, but I think we didn’t get forward enough. I think we need to play more attacking, so I was trying to play hard and trying to keep us in it.”
Harborfields came close to scoring, as the ball went into the net on a falling, over-the-back scissor kick to open the second half, but the goal was reversed on a foul call. The Tornadoes picked up steam from there, but Totillo made back-to-back saves, and then a rebound off a shot that hit the far right post was saved by a defender who jumped in net as Totillo came out.
“That’s why we eventually won the game,” Greening said of his team’s willingness to not give up the ball up in the Panthers’ zone.
Harborfields kept Miller Place on its toes, as shots went wide and over the net. Then, the team scored with 15:23 on the clock off a LaRocca corner throw-in — one of many the senior midfielder and co-captain’s team received.
Miller Place head coach Kenny Lake said despite the outcome, he’s proud of what his young team — as he started five sophomores and an eighth-grader — was able to accomplish.
“We have a young group that stood up to a challenge,” he said. “We have a very good team that we played today, so hats off to them, but we worked hard and that’s all I could ask for.”
He thinks his team needs to work on keeping its composure, which he knows will come with maturity, but was impressed by his young keeper’s skills.
“He played awesome,” Lake said of Totillo. “He really kept us in the game. The game is fast, and I think we’re getting better with every single game. We have a very bright future with a very young varsity team, so I’m excited.”
As for the Tornadoes, they’re looking to keep a tight grip on the League V title they won last year.
The team has claimed nine points over its last six road games while the Tornadoes’ field is being renovated, earning four wins and tying once over the span. The team takes on reigning state champion Amityville next, Sept. 22 at 4:30 p.m.
“If we just keep playing the way we’re playing and step it up a little bit, we’ll be a great team,” Zihal said. “I think we can do great things.”