For a couple of hours, it was a really good story.
Yonkers Montessori Academy went into the Section 1 girls soccer tournament a decided underdog. The Eagles do not have the advantage of a modified or junior varsity and had never won a playoff game.
They held on for 110 minutes under the lights Saturday at Edgemont, which had a 25-3 advantage in shots on goal.
Nobody scored in regulation and overtime, so the sides lined up for penalty kicks. Each team selected five players to shoot. Each team netted a pair of penalty kicks.
Tears were already flowing.
After huddling for a moment, the officials instructed the sides to pick five different players for another set of five penalty kicks. It’s a move that was immediately questioned by Edgemont coach Darren Hawks and YMA coach Marc Aliberti, who eventually complied.
Like any more drama was needed.
It was 2-2 after each team took four penalty kicks. Yonkers Montessori keeper Milagros Moye turned away Edgemont’s last chance, then Geraldine Rodriguez stepped up and won the game.
By the way, she’s in the eighth grade.
“I’m so proud of these kids,” a hoarse and breathless Aliberti said shortly after his team posed for a tongues-out salute to the prognosticators.
Not so fast.
Those exact three words appeared on the Twitter account of Rich Leaf, the president of the Westchester-Putnam Soccer Approved Soccer Officials Association who had been following along from his Somers home via social media updates.
Phones began to ring.
The officials did not adhere to the procedure for a second round of penalty kicks that is published in the Section 1 handbook for girls soccer. After the first round, the format shifts to sudden victory. Each coach picks five new players to participate. If the first shooter nets the penalty kick, the opposition gets a shot to extend the process. If there is no goal, the game is over.
“We spend a lot of time going over these rules and there is no excuse for this happening,” Leaf said. “I feel badly for both teams because the girls were put on an emotional roller coaster.”
There was a referee meeting last Wednesday and the rules and procedures for the Section 1 tournament were reviewed.
Edgemont athletic director Anthony DeRosa was in the press box running the scoreboard and read the rules from the handbook before the overtime and the penalty kicks over the PA.
“I was definitely surprised when they had five players taking penalty kicks in the second round,” he said. “I went down afterward just to get clarification. … I did speak with the referees, but I did not say I was going to protest.”
Neither did Hawks.
“I received a call from Rich Leaf a little while later,” DeRosa said. “He was very apologetic. He advised me to get in touch with (Section 1 executive director) Jen Simmons and pursue a protest.”
The folks at YMA see that as a conflict of interest.
“No protest was filed on the field,” said Jim Rose, the director of health, physical education and athletics for the Yonkers Public Schools. “They did not file a protest according to the procedure listed in the handbook.”
At best, the protest rules were only loosely followed, in part to expedite a ruling.
“This protest happened on the field with both coaches disagreeing with the officials,” Simmons wrote in an email. “The officials overruled them, unfortunately, even after the AD had already read the rules over the PA. I was notified immediately of the protest over the process at the conclusion.
“During the post season, the protest is taken to the committee, which is the head of the officials’ association, the sport chair (Nanuet AD Frank Mazzuca) and myself. Once I conferred with those two and the AD’s from each school, the decision was made. The officials were correct with the OT process and the first round of penalty kicks. Unfortunately, the second round of PK’s are sudden victory. YMA missed. Edgemont scored. The game should have ended immediately. Anything after does not count.”
Here’s my sticking point: The error was not made after each team completed the first penalty kick in the second round.
When the officials dictated that both schools would take another set of five PKs, they established context. Aliberti decided to have the best remaining athletes on the YMA roster shoot third, fourth and fifth.
All three of them were successful.
Credit for the deciding penalty kick belongs to Edgemont junior Sydney Gaviser.
Simmons also consulted with NYSPHSAA executive director Robert Zayas late Saturday before issuing the ruling, which by rule cannot be appealed.
There is a common sense answer: Line up before the quarterfinals get under way on Tuesday and start the second round of penalty kicks over under the proper Section 1 rules.
“When that sixth kick took place, the game was over,” Zayas said. “If you bring those teams back and redo the penalty kicks, what do you do the next time another official fails to properly apply a rule? The precedent established when you replay something is difficult to maintain.”
The last thing we need is parents arming lawyers with video of uncalled hand-balls in the box and creating absolute chaos.
Still, this is a terrible way to end a season.
The administration in Yonkers did reach out to the full girls soccer committee on Monday, but there was no discussion of lining up to redo the PKs.
“We’ve already started the healing process,” Aliberti said. “The girls are moving on and wishing Edgemont and their coach the best of luck. This is the definition of a moral victory.”
So at the very least, the referees involved need to bring the playoff opponents back together in the next week or so and use their game checks to buy forgiveness. The girls at YMA wouldn’t mind taking another trip up Central Park Avenue for wings at the Candlelight Inn.