SHRUB OAK – The sight of Alex Bourgeois drilling a free kick goal in the Class B final may have seemed like a flashback, but this was present day.
Hastings’ junior center back starred in last year’s title game, and he was at it again on Saturday at Lakeland High. He scored less three minutes into the championship rematch with Rye Neck, but this year’s 1-0 win wouldn’t come as easy as the 4-0 blowout of 2015.
There were tense moments down the stretch as the Panthers attacked relentlessly, but the early goal held up to give Hastings the repeat.
“I thought it was going to be more of a shootout, honestly,” Bourgeois said. “It was very nerve-wrecking. They got a lot of chances, but we kept our heads and kept playing the way we’ve been playing. We just did everything that we could to try and stop it.”
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The highly-anticipated rematch pitted the top two seeds against one another, one year after the Yellow Jackets routed Rye Neck for the title. Bourgeois struck quickly to give the Panthers the feeling of déjà vu, but they did not fold.
Top-seeded Rye Neck created chances throughout the game, including a free kick from Reed Peterson in the 31st minute that was tipped by Hastings goalie Daymon Theodule and hit the post.
“They came out ready to play,” Hastings coach Fred Sandhop said. “I was waiting for Rye Neck to equalize. They put us under pressure. We were on the edge of our seats. It was a bit of a nail-biter.”
No. 2 Hastings (17-1-1) is known for positioning some of its best players on defense and giving them the freedom to push up, namely Bourgeois and Oscar Pereira, and the Panthers took a similar approach with senior Luis Galeano.
He’s been their leading scorer and has earned a reputation as one of the top forwards in Section 1, but he spent most of the game on defense.
“I was surprised because they kept him back there for a very long time,” Hastings senior Nate Constantine said. “I know he’s a dynamic player who can score goals at will, so I was surprised seeing him there. But we have Oscar in the back, so maybe it was similar, just to keep their defense on their toes and stop us from scoring a lot of goals.”
With about 15 minutes left to play, Galeano shifted up to forward and Rye Neck (16-3) responded with an onslaught. In the 74th minute, he connected on a highlight-reel bicycle kick, but Theodule was there for one of his six saves.
“We knew he was eventually going to go up,” Sandhop said. “Oscar was trying to man-mark him most of the time. Listen, as I shook his hand, I told him that we respect him as a player. It was a pleasure and an honor to coach against him for these last few years.”
Despite some nervous moments, Bourgeois’ goal turned out to the difference, sending the Jackets to the state tournament for the second straight year. They’ll play Section 9 champ Fallsburg in the regional semifinals at 4 p.m. on Wednesday at Middletown High.
Last season, Hastings reached the state final four. This time around, there is reason to believe it can do even better.
“The team is just more technical and I think the chemistry this year, we’re just like a family. We’re all connected,” Bourgeois said. “As soon as preseason started, we all wanted to play and get right back here. Some players have more experience than the others, but we’re all here as a team and that’s our main goal – get back to states and try to win it.”