By Anthony Bosco
High school sports are a beautiful thing, something that helps keep me sane and grounded during these most tumultuous of times. It is athletic competition at its most pure, mostly untainted, and something to be cherished.
This past Sunday, I ventured out to the United States Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Points — one of the more wealthy and picturesque communities on the North Shore of Long Island — to take in the CHSAA state championship game between Queens’ Archbishop Molloy Stanners and the Cougars of St. John the Baptist of Long Island.
Parents, students and friends packed the stands next to the field, bundled up in parkas, blankets and sweaters to watch a soccer match that, in the great scheme of things, probably means little to those who didn’t make the trek or braved the cold. But those who didn’t come out to see the game missed a great one and an exhibition of what high school sports is all about.
Heading into the game, St. John the Baptist had steam-rolled through the regular season and the playoffs, winning the Rockville Centre championship to earn a berth in the state playoffs. The Cougars had yet to lose a game, with only two minor blemishes on their records, ties to perennial powers Chaminade and Martin Luther King.
Baptist also handed the Monsignor Farrell Lions, winners of the CHSAA city championship over Molloy, 4-0, a 1-0 defeat in the semis. Everyone who seemed to have a take on the inner workings of the CHSAA went into Sunday’s game with the assumption that Molloy was the heavy underdog.
In soccer, unlike most other sports, if a team goes into a defensive mode, it’s almost impossible to score on them. Luckily for Molloy, which had the deck stacked against them playing such an offensive force as the Cougars, a little luck in the game allowed the Stanners to do just that.
Rob Sardis scored just three minutes into the first half on a goal that was as much a gift as anything. The Baptist goalie and defender simply froze on a deep ball placed by Molloy and Sardis capitalized, putting home the game’s lone score.
After that Molloy was simply hanging on.
Time and again the Cougars charged up the field and peppered the Molloy defense with shot after shot. Stanners’ goalie Michael Testa was simply brilliant, jumping, sliding, diving and punching balls away.
Testa’s performance, in my book, may be one of the best in a big-game situation I have seen on the high-school level. Facing top-quality opposition, the sophomore refused to fold and carried his team to the championship.
Helping Testa lift the Stanners was a raucous crowd, which seemed split down the middle in terms of allegiance. They stamped their feet, chanted and screamed throughout with every miraculous play.
Only in soccer can a team — in this case St. John the Baptist — dominate 90 percent of the game, control virtually ever aspect of play, but still come away on the losing end. Molloy needed just one goal and Testa in net.
Molloy head coach Andy Kostell seemed positively giddy afterward — something I’d never thought I’d see — as he rightly credited his players with the win.
For all his hard work over the years with Molloy and as a league official, Kostell has established himself as one of the most knowledgeable soccer coaches in the city. And while he may have been ecstatic with his first ever state crown and deserving of praise, it was his players with whom he bestowed the credit.
One of the great things about the CHSAA soccer championship is that after the game has concluded, the winners celebrated and the losers mourned, the two teams meet at midfield for an awards presentation.
Each player has his named called and is brought up to receive and award. All the while the opposing team and spectators applaud. It is a true show of sportsmanship. No matter how tough the game is played, how physical, the closing ceremony always seems to go off without a hitch.
Afterward, while walking back to my car, I heard some of the Baptist parents in the parking lot speak of the game. And while it was clear they were disappointed, the ones I heard speaking all credited “that goalie.”
This game was only the most recent one for me in which high school sports demonstrated why it is so special. A few weeks ago when the Bayside football team lost to August Martin, the Commodore players left the field in tears, lamenting the fact that they had probably just blew their one chance at the playoffs. It was sad to see, but wonderful at the same time.
And there is nothing like watching these young people in the primes of their lives live out their dreams, watch them as the elation of the moment washes over them and knowing that they will never forget that day as long as they live.
It’s little things like that which makes high school sports an essential part of my daily fiber. There are no labor questions, gripes about contracts or controversy at all in those moments. There is simply the feeling of perfection for that one instance.
Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.