By Michael Lewis
MATTITUCK, N.Y. – The only person who could stop Erick Morales from scoring on Wednesday afternoon turned out to be Mattituck High School boys head coach Dan O’Sullivan.
O’Sullivan pulled his junior midfielder from the match with 11:04 remaining in the Suffolk County League V confrontation.
By then, Morales had done his damage – his first three goals of the season and his first scholastic hat-trick – in the Tuckers’ 4-0 victory over archrival and 10-man Center Moriches in the oldest Long Island derby.
“Today, the team played well,” Morales said. “That’s how we should play every game – tough, hard, physical. I love how we play. I’m a team player. I want to take my team to the states and win every game as possible and play hard, as always.”
Actually, in the first New York Sportswriters Association’s rankings of Class B schools, Mattituck (eighth place) was ahead of No. 11 Moriches. Babylon was 11th. But given a rivalry that has lasted 86 years, emotions can run high.
Morales and his Mattituck (3-1, 3-1) teammates certainly made it hard for the Red Devils (1-2, 1-2) on a beautiful, sunny afternoon at the Tuckers new field.
“Center Moriches was the No. 1 team in the county and we beat them, the first time we beat them 4-0 in a long time,” Morales said. “It feels great. The best feeling ever because I have also been there when we’ve lost to Center in the playoffs but winning against them, its a great feeling.”
After the team suffered a 2-0 defeat at County Class B defending champion Babylon on Monday, Mattituck head coach Dan O’Sullivan decided to change a few things – tactics and Morales’ position. It worked to perfection.
“I’m proud of the way that we finally played our game,” O’Sullivan said. “The other day, we kind of fell into the Babylon trap. We knew that we were very talented team. We started getting a little in depth with the X’s and O’s and strategy and tactics. Yesterday, we said, you know, what, scrap that. Let’s just play our game and who cares about the other side? We’ll play our way. We should do fine. It worked today.”
So did switching Morales from defensive midfield to an attacking position. He switched places with senior Erik McKenna.
“We kind of tweaked things a little bit today,” O’Sullivan said. “I had him playing there in the summer [in the Brookhaven Summer League]. It’s the luxury of having summer team so I had him play. He’s familiar with that role. McKenna was playing up there but wasn’t going the ball enough.”
Playing deeper allowed McKenna, the team’s playmaker – he actually wears No. 10 – to get the ball more often and do what he does best – pass.
“He’s a ball of energy. He’s a motor,” O’Sullivan said. “The only time he wants to come off is if he gets hurt, and then he’s back in two seconds. He’s just doesn’t want to stop. He works hard, 24/7 No matter if he gets beat, he’s going to try to recover.”
It took less than four minutes for Morales to start making his mark on the match as he put home Alex Clark’s pass, beating goalkeeper Tyler Stewart from the right side 3:32 after the opening kickoff.
“I was very satisfied,” Morales said of the Tuckers’ overall performance. “My teammates helped me. They gave me the ball. I went for the ball. I tried my best and scored.”
Morales was far from finished. He doubled the lead with 2:46 remaining in the half – at 37:14. Tommy McGunnigle sent him a pass on the right side, some 40 yards from the net. Stewart came out to no-man’s land for a keeper to try to clear the ball, but the Mattituck junior got there first and sent a long chip shot into the unattended goal.
“The goalie thought he was going to get to it,” Morales said. “I was fast enough, and I put the ball in.”
He made it a natural hat-trick at 43:40 – 3:40 into the second half off a Cris Arreola feed for a three-goal advantage.
Two minutes later, Moriches defender Matt Debler-Seidel was sent off for using profanity, leaving the visitors with 10 players. A woman in the standings scolded game officials for the red card and was removed from the premises as well.
“A loss of composure certainly was not a plus for us,” Moriches head coach Chris O’Brien said. “We’ve got to be better at that, keeping our composure and, and understanding that it’s part of the game. I mean, this is a physical game, and you got to take some knocks. You got to be able to react to them a little bit better.”
Justin Fox closed out the scoring, off a McKenna assist, at 67:21.
Goalkeeper Jack Golder (three saves) recorded the clean sheet.
O’Brien wasn’t happy with the game officiating on the first three goals.
“The first three goals were very bizarre, and I’ve been around this game for a very long time,” he said. “The first one … was obviously missed call because you know, there were three guys in an offside position when the ball was served. We kept playing but that’s part of the game. Part of the game is missed calls We certainly make, I make millions of mistakes as a coach and you know, I just didn’t think that was the correct call.
“Second one, miscommunication between one of our defenders in the back the kid steps in wins the ball, puts it away. Third one, we got a kid whacked in the head. Everybody stopping because it’s a head injury, and they just kept on playing and they got on the other side, and they score. Fourth one was a good goal.”
The Mattituck-Moriches rivalry has been going on since 1936, with ebbs and flows on which teams would capture county Class B or sometimes Class C soccer supremacy.
In 2013 and 2014, the Tuckers were on top. In recent years, Moriches has prevailed, especially in the county playoffs.
Last year, the games were closer. Mattituck won at home, 1-0, and the rivals played to a rare scoreless for both sides at Moriches.
After all these years, the M-M derby is still alive and kicking.
“We always keep an eye on each other,’ O’Brien said, adding that Wednesday night’s result certainly wasn’t an indication of the rivalry. We stank the scoreboard up. That being said, I think it’s still a big rivalry.
O’Sullivan felt defeating Moriches was a big deal.
“This is huge, definitely, especially coming off of Babylon was a team that we lost to in the county finals,” he said. “When we went there Monday, I thought they were more nervous Monday than they were in the county final. So this was big. We knew how important it was coming against another B school again and being Center Moriches, the rivalry to come out like this.
“This is now the bar. You can’t be any lower than that. Now we have to play to this level and beyond every game moving forward. That’s definitely the best Center result I’ve ever been on the end of. So, hopefully we can just use this as building bridge people go on from there.”
Mattituck also played on their new soccer field for the second time this season, which was situated adjacent to the school building. The field was set up in the outfield of the baseball field. The old field, which is located next to the track, has been beaten up over the past several years.
O’Sullivan certainly felt at home since he is the school’s varsity baseball coach.
“I love the new field,” he said. “It’s a field really only touched on game days so it’s in pristine condition. We made the dimensions bigger a few days before the season and I think it plays as a total advantage to us. Our guys are getting acclimated to the width and texture and understand the importance of hitting a harder pass off the turf – but things that certainly play into our strengths.”
Indeed, it has.
The Tuckers have won both games on their pitch, including a 5-0 win over Port Jefferson on Sept. 9.
After playing at Greenport on Friday, they will host Class C champion Pierson/Bridgehampton on Tuesday as they aim for their third consecutive home win.