Freeport battles to the finish

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Despite facing a number of mid-season injuries, Freeport entered the last week of the regular season still alive for the lone playoff spot in Conference A-II girls’ soccer.

Freeport (7-3) was down to just 13 players for a two-week stretch of games in which the Lady Red Devils suffered two late-September losses to Oceanside and Plainview-JFK. The team fought through the adversity though to win four straight games and enter the final week of the season mathematically alive for the postseason.

“There were certainly no complaints about playing time,” first-year head coach Chris Doherty joked about his thin bench earlier in the season. “It was tough but in some ways made us better because it taught some of the players to play other positions.”

The balloon officially popped for Freeport’s slim postseason hopes after a 2-0 setback at unbeaten Oceanside on Monday. The Red Devils gave up two first half goals and were kept in the game thanks to a 16-save performance by goalkeeper Tyler Hawkins.

Freeport was positioned for a late push at the lone playoff spot in Conference AA-II in large part to a stout defense anchored by Hawkins, who has recorded six shutouts. When not factoring in the two losses while playing shorthanded, Freeport surrendered just one goal entering the final week of regular season play. Hawkins’ strong play in net has been aided by defenders Hayley Matthews and Darelyn Lewis who stepped up to anchor the backline amid the team’s injury woes. 

“The defense has been very solid,” said Doherty, a former longtime soccer coach at Nassau Community College who took over the Freeport program after several seasons coaching at the JV level. “They have been great for us.”

The Freeport offense has been led by freshman Ancksu Dixon, who tallied two three points in a 4-1 win at Hempstead last Friday and has 15 goals for the season. Sophomore Tatianna Austin has also been a force near the net with three goals including a big score in Freeport’s 3-0 win at Long Beach on Oct. 1.

“That is where our scoring punch is coming from,” said Doherty of his underclassmen duo. “They are our speed.”

After hosting Plainview JFK on Wednesday, after press time, Freeport will close the regular season at home against Long Beach on Friday at 4:45 p.m. The Red Devils will have a shot at sweeping Long Beach, who handed Freeport its only two losses of 2017 en route to the Conference A-III title.

Freeport entered the season with high expectations after returning 14 players from last year’s 6-2-1 team, but the Red Devils faced tougher odds at a playoff berth when Conference AA-III and AA-II were combined. Given that the task was made even harder by a spate of injuries, Doherty is proud of the 2018 team no matter what the final record may show.

“We have showed a lot of character,” Doherty said.  “We have showed we belong in this conference.”