SHRUB OAK – One team had the resume. The other had the goals.
New Rochelle, which hadn’t made it past sectional play in two decades, beat longtime Section 4 powerhouse Ithaca 3-0 Wednesday night in the Class AA boys soccer regional semifinals.
Jarohan Garcia’s Huguenots, now 11-4-4, will play Section 9 winner Newburgh Free Academy in the AA regional final Saturday at Middletown High School.
Before Wednesday’s game, Ithaca coach Gilbert Antoine appeared confident, remarking, “We’re a state soccer team. We’re used to this.”
But New Rochelle had the been-there-done-that look throughout most of the game, even though the Huguenots exited in the first round of the Section 1 tournament last year and went out in the quarterfinals the year before.
But the team that upset Arlington had no intention of seeing its season end and dominated throughout most of the second half.
Three-year New Rochelle coach Jarohan Garcia credited the turnaround to his team maturing.
“I knew we could do this. We have so much talent. Nobody believed in us, but we believed in us and that is all that mattered,” said senior Harwan Alzuabidi, whose steal and shot under the crossbar with 36:29 left gave New Rochelle its 3-0 lead.
With 10:04 left in the first half Ithaca senior goalie Kevin Klaben let an Oscar Espinoza’s shot from about 25 yards out slip through his hands for the opening goal of the game.
Ithaca, 12-3-3, never returned to any sense of a rhythm after giving up New Rochelle’s first-half goal.
In the Huguenots’ end, senior goalie Daniel Ayala had several good, aggressive plays, beating onrushing Ithaca players to the ball.
One occurred just 41 seconds before New Rochelle’s first goal. Ayala sprinted out and leapt high for a big hop, grabbing the ball with Ithaca’s Aidan Fitzpatrick in his face.
Player of the game: Leonardo Vargas had a huge game, both defensively and offensively. He picked off several Ithaca passes in New Rochelle territory.
But it was his goal extending the New Rochelle lead to 2-0 that really sealed Ithaca’s fate.
Turning point: That occurred after Kevin Klaben couldn’t control a shot that then squirted out of bounds. That led to a New Rochelle corner and Vargas headed the ball in with 38:40 left. That was his first goal off of a header this season.
Stat line: Soon it was Alzuabidi’s turn to put write his name on the score sheet and he did so adding an exclamation point with his interception and rifle shot
Klaben’s play improved dramatically as the game went on and he was credited with six saves.
Quotables: Ayala was credited with just one but his play was much, much bigger that.
Afterward, he said of Klaben, “He’s a good keeper. He just got nervous.”
He also credited Garcia for his team’s win, saying, “He taught us discipline – that it’s not all about soccer but about life after high school.”
But, for now, much of the team’s focus is on soccer.
“It’s not a dream anymore,” Alzuabidi said. “It’s reality.”