PEARL RIVER – The season was slipping away for the defending Class A champs, and they could feel it.
Few were expecting top-seeded Pearl River to run into trouble in Monday’s quarterfinal against eighth-seeded Nanuet, especially considering that the Golden Knights hadn’t beaten the Pirates since 2004. But with Pearl River trailing by one with under five minutes left to play, it was impossible to escape the magnitude of the moment.
“Absolutely,” senior Craig MacDonald said when asked if it dawned on him that this could be his final high school game. “We talked about it before the game, and as soon as they put one in, I know the seniors felt it. We all knew the situation.”
With just 4:14 standing between the Pirates and a devastating loss, Christian Madigan back-heeled in the tying goal to force overtime and stave off elimination. After 101 minutes of play, it was MacDonald booting in a right-footed goal from 15 yards out to give Pearl River an unforgettable 2-1 win.
“The ball was bouncing around in there, and I think Denis (Fleming) and Francesco (Galvano) were in there,” MacDonald said. “The ball popped up, and I’m hearing, ‘Shoot!,’ from everyone on the sidelines. It was awesome.”
It was stunning that the Pirates didn’t score in the first half. They put eight shots on goal compared to just one from Nanuet, but goalkeeper Dan O’Sullivan was outstanding for the Knights.
Nanuet made some key adjustments at halftime and got a quick goal from Chris Fisher in the 44th minute, proving that it was one of the most improved teams in Section 1 this season.
“I knew they were going to play us hard,” Madigan said. “Our two schools are in towns right next to each other, so it’s a helluva rivalry in every sport. I just knew they were going to give it their all. Their program has improved so much just over the past three years since I’ve been here, and it’s great to see. Rockland County soccer is getting a lot better.”
Player of the game: Craig MacDonald, Pearl River — Before coming up with the winning goal, MacDonald was robbed a few times by Bilein. He was a pest for the Knights to deal with from start-to-finish.
“I knew he was going to come through,” Madigan said. “Him and Kevin (Doorley) both come up clutch all of the time. They’re two great players, and I just knew one of them was going to put one in to end it.”
Turning point: Nanuet had seized all momentum after Fisher’s goal and held the Pirates’ offense in check for most of the second half, but Madigan’s goal off of Galvano’s corner kick changed everything.
Stat line: Pearl River (14-2-2) — Madigan and MacDonald scored on assists from Galvano and Dara Donnelly. Dolan Ocasal made eight saves and the Pirates took 21 shots. Nanuet (13-5-1) — Fisher scored on an assist from Matt Wien, while O’Sullivan made 13 saves. The Knights took 16 shots.
Quotable: “We were dominating the game, but they definitely played better in the second half,” Madigan said. “I just knew that we had to get one lucky bounce and put the ball in. Then, it was anyone’s game.”