By Joseph Staszewski
Missing the postseason last year didn’t sit well with a Francis Lewis program that has traditionally been one of the best in the city. Fueled by that failure to produce results, the Patriots are now back among the elite teams.
“That really put us down a lot,” senior midfielder Andrew Sepulveda said. “We had to pick our heads up and realize Lewis isn’t like this and we have to really go for this.”
Francis Lewis solidified and validated its superb season with a 3–1 home win over defending PSAL city champion Aviation last Saturday in a battle of Queens division leaders. The victory put the Patriots in the driver’s seat to claim its first league title since 2012 and a top-tier seed in the upcoming playoffs with one game remaining. Lewis has not lost since a season opening defeat to Bayside.
“I feel like this was the most important match of the season, especially because they are the division champs and it was a home game,” Sepulveda said.
His club picked up the key victory, thanks to three goals in a matter of six minutes in the opening half. Lewis broke through on a pretty combination passing play. First-year junior Sebastian Rincon Ballen crossed the ball to Stamatis Amvrosiatos in the box. He quickly pushed it to Sepulveda on the right side for a score to the roof of the goal in the 11th minute.
Four minutes later, Rincon Ballen scored to the top left corner after running onto a through ball by Gabriel Perez. Thomas Mastroras capped the spurt and made the score 3-0 by converting a penalty kick in the 17th minute after Christopher Thomas was taken down in the box by Aviation sweeper Jeffery Gad. Scoring in bunches is something Lewis (8-1-1) has done this season. It scored four second-half goals against Benjamin Cardozo.
“When these guys are jelling or playing well together, they can beat any team,” Patriots coach Roger Sarmuksnis said.
Aviation (10-1-0) finally woke up after falling behind and got the better of the play for the final 20 minutes of the half. The Flyers saw Angel Serrano score in the 33rd minute to make it 3-1.
They might have scored more if it hadn’t been for the stellar play of Lewis keeper Ilia Loukissas, who replaced freshman keeper Mohammad Mashriqi after the opening loss to Bayside. He made a diving stop to his right on a shot by Serrano and later punched a ball over the crossbar.
“He’s really come a long way as a goalie for us,” Sarmuksnis said.
Aviation coach Mario Cotumaccio wasn’t surprised by his team’s lackluster effort. He could sense something was off at practice on Friday and warned his players that they could be headed for their first defeat. He couldn’t pinpoint why this group didn’t respond.
“I just don’t know where my boys were today, obviously in the first half they weren’t here at Francis Lewis High School,” he said. “Physically they were here, but mentally they weren’t.”
Lewis, on the other hand, is locked and believes beating Aviation will earn then the respect they deserve again.
“We are starting to make a name for ourselves,” Rincon Ballen said. “We beat the defending champs.”