In two key games last week, the grand experiment of the merged Saugerties High and John A. Coleman Catholic High boys’ varsity soccer team showed promising signs. Players from both schools factored into key wins that propelled the team into the postseason.
“I’m really pleased,” said team coach Michael Riley this Tuesday. “The goal from the beginning was to get them to play for each other. They started off strong, but we met our division, one of the toughest around with Wallkill, New Paltz and FDR. But we swept the second division and we were able to finish it off tonight.”
The Sawyers closed out the regular season an even 6-6 record after Tuesday night’s visit to Highland, where they trounced the home side 5-1. Saugerties sophomore Axel Gomez scored four goals, bringing his goal tally for the season to 21.
“It’s unheard of,” said Riley. “A lot of that is because of Brandon [Davenport]. He occupies a lot of attention. Because teams have to put two or three players on Brandon, Axel gets into some really great channels and Brandon finds him.”
Davenport, a Coleman senior and co-captain, is the team’s engine in the midfield, assisting on four Sawyer goals on Tuesday night. A fellow senior Statesman, Jax Mautone, is a co-captain and the team’s stalwart goalkeeper. He turned away three Highland shots.
“It meant a lot,” said Mautone of the win. “We worked hard this season, but we lost some games where we kind of dominated throughout. We had to come out and win this game.”
Complementing Gomez on the offensive side all season long has been eighth grader Shaan Sekhon, who scored the Sawyers’ other goal in the Highland win.
“The big surprise for me this season is the eighth grader,” said Riley. “We are actually starting him every game, and he rarely comes out. That’s a good sign for the future.”
Davenport has also been impressed by the Saugerties underclassman. “He’s only an eighth grader, and he’s making a huge impact on varsity,” he said. “By his senior year he’s going to be really good.”
While the win at Highland was crucial, a 3-2 victory over visiting perennial Mid-Hudson Athletic League powerhouse New Paltz four days earlier was the turning point for a Sawyer squad overcoming a midseason lull. “Winning against New Paltz was big,” said Mautone. “We thought we were going to get crushed and winning was impossible. Coming out of nowhere for the win was great.”
Gomez had a hat trick in the victory over the Huguenots, equalizing midway through the first half and giving the Sawyers the go-ahead goal just before the half. Offensively, at least on paper, it was a battle between Gomez and New Paltz’s Isaac Cherviyot, who put New Paltz up early with his first goal, then leveled the contest in the 65th minute. But it was Gomez who had the last laugh, scoring with just two minutes remaining in regulation off an assist by Davenport.
Saugerties made the most of its opportunities after being outshot 10-5 and seeing New Paltz earn five corner kicks to their own four. Davenport dished an assist to Gomez in the win, while Mautone earned eight saves.
The Sawyers will have to keep their momentum rolling if they want to make a deep run in the postseason. They’re heading off to battle top-seeded Minisink Valley on Monday, October 22.
“It starts with defense,” said Riley. “If they can’t score, we can’t lose. And we have to be able to transition quickly into the attack. That’s going to be the key.”
Beyond the momentum the win provided, the New Paltz game may yield clues that will help Saugerties put up a good fight against Minisink.
“We’re on a little bit of a roll right now,” Riley said. “After our win against New Paltz we’ve just tried to harness that. It was the biggest win of the season for us. We’re going to try and recreate some of the better moments from that game. The team we’re playing is very similar to that team.”
Mautone said it’ll be important for the Sawyers to recognize that a soccer game is a marathon of moments, especially after giving up an early goal against a very tough team. “We want to work hard and work smart,” he said. “And we need to stay positive even if we get scored on. If we stay positive and keep a good attitude, the scores will come.”
Davenport said he believes Saugerties can rise to the challenge on Tuesday if the team members work together. “We need to play faster,” he said. “Offensively we’re good, but defensively we need to work to play as a team, covering for each other. The main thing you want on a team is for everyone to be unselfish. If everyone is playing for themselves they’re going nowhere. If players are putting the team first, that’s where you find success and move forward.”