On the field, in the backyard, during the offseason—for more than a decade, Nick West has been practicing, honing and tweaking, to near perfection, his accuracy on free kicks.
It paid off in a big way on Sunday afternoon.
The East Hampton senior scored twice, on free kicks, to lead the Bonackers to their first-ever Long Island Championship, beating South Side 2-1 in double overtime to claim the Class A boys soccer title and earn a trip to the New York State Final Four. East Hampton will take on Jamesville DeWitt in the Class A semifinals at Middletown High School on Saturday at 8:30 a.m. The winner advances to the state championship against the winner of Byram Hills vs. Greece Athena on Sunday at 10:30 a.m.
West’s first goal on Sunday tied the game at 1-1 with 7:57 left in regulation. It was a beauty, a high shot off a free kick that South Side goalie Josh Levine (15 saves) got his hands on but couldn’t corral, as it dipped down and over the goal line before he could sweep it out. The game-winner, with five minutes left in the second 15-minute, sudden-death overtime, was off a free kick as well—on a deadly accurate path to the goal mouth again, the ball glanced off a South Side defender and past Levine, leading to a raucous celebration for the Bonackers.
There was no shortage of emotion for East Hampton after the win, and for a group of five seniors, the win was particularly sweet. West, Esteban Valverde, Bryan Oreamuno, Christian Barrientos and goalie Nick Tulp experienced back-to-back losses to Jericho in the Long Island title game in 2011 and 2012, and were on the team last year as well for a disappointing penalty kicks loss in the county semifinals to Elwood/John Glenn.
“There’s no feeling like it,” West said after the game. “It’s the best feeling in the world.”
After the game, West spoke about his accuracy on free kicks, saying he’s been practicing since he was just five years old, with his father and his older brother, Brandon West, who has won Division III national championships as the starting goalie for Messiah College, where Nick West is headed next year.
“My brother would be in goal and yeah, we’d just be out there all the time, working hard,” he said.
Brandon West was on hand to witness his younger brother’s game-winning goal, and jumped onto the field to celebrate with him when the game was over.
East Hampton head coach Rich King spoke about West and his clutch goals.
“He hits the ball like not many high school kids do,” King said. “It moves all over the place, and on that first goal, that’s exactly what happened. The keeper thought he had it, and it dipped at the last second, and the kid misplayed it. And that’s a good goalkeeper; he kept them in the game and made three or four unbelievable saves. Nick is one of the finest kids that I’ve ever seen at this level taking free kicks.
“This is kind of like an exclamation point for him on his career,” King continued when asked about West’s legacy. “He came up as a freshman and has done anything we’ve asked of him. I couldn’t be happier for him, in this theater, to do what he did today.”
For a good part of the second half, it looked like the Bonackers might experience more disappointment in the Long Island title game. East Hampton had the lion’s share of the chances and possession throughout the game, and was stymied by Levine on several excellent chances, but the Cyclones got on the scoreboard first when Brandon Brower scored off a corner that was sent in by Alessandro Pugliese with 25:41 left to play. Around the 21 minute mark, Levine made a pair of great saves on shots by Jonathan Chunchi and West, and made another fine diving stop on a header by Max Lerner with 14:36 left. After West’s equalizer, Kevin Ovando nearly ended it for East Hampton, with a header that hit the crossbar with 1:15 left in regulation.
With 9:10 left in the second overtime, East Hampton goalie Tulp (eight saves) kept his team in the game, coming out to stop an attempt by South Side’s Marco Tulio Clavasquin, who found himself in a one-on-one situation with Tulp, setting the stage for West’s heroics.
King tried to describe his feelings after the win.
“Relief, joy, happiness, everything,” he said. “It was a surreal feeling, to be quite honest. It was surreal.”
King said he was proud of his team’s effort, particularly as it was coming off a grueling 1-0 win over Comsewogue in the county championship just two days earlier.
“I thought we played well, except for the fact, which wasn’t in our control, we had some heavy legs,” he said. “I think the turnover time from the county final affected us. But I think based on everything, that we dictated our style of play.”
In keeping with the theme that has been present after every playoff victory this season, however, King insisted that he and his players still are not satisfied.
“We’re ecstatic about it,” he said of the historic win. “But the ultimate goal is still out there. We set forth to win a state championship, and that’s what we plan on doing. This is just another step in that direction.”