By Rob Abruzzese
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
As the final seconds ticked off the clock and LIU Brooklyn’s season was officially over, Jacob Smith looked up to the scoreboard that read 4-0, pointed and told all of his teammates to look up at it too. He felt horrible and it was a feeling that he didn’t want to relive again.
“Obviously everyone was deflated, but Jacob pointed to the scoreboard and told everyone to look at the score,” Blackbirds’ head coach TJ Kostecky said. ”He said, ‘When we practice, we have to remember this from now on and we have to change it in the future.’ That’s leadership.”
The Blackbirds were just one win away from a playoff spot that looked unlikely when they opened the season with a 1-6-1 record. Somehow, they turned the season around though and went 4-1-1 to get back into the hunt and they were one win away with one game left. On that final game of the season, St. Francis College, their rivals from Brooklyn Heights, beat them 4-0 on their own field to eliminate them from contention.
“As we went into the conference, we started finding ourselves and cutting out a lot of the small mistakes we were making,” Smith explained. “We went to St. Francis PA and Robert Morris and got a couple of wins. That’s what we felt like was the turning point in our season. We thought from there that we would be going to the final four, but.
“I think we have to use this as motivation for next year,” he said. “We lost the last game of the season 4-0. It’s our cross town rivals and it’s tough. We can’t forget this feeling because I don’t want this to happen again.”
Things happened so fast in that game too. St. Francis’ Harry Odell scored in the third minute and Gabriel Bagot followed that up with a goal one minute later to put the Blackbirds into a quick 2-0 hole.
“Going down two goals early was tough, but I kept telling the guys, ‘Just get one back. One back and we’re right in the thick of it,’” Smith said. “Being down 2-0 is tough, but it’s far from over. You can’t let anybody stop or give up.”
The Blackbirds had their chances throughout the first half, some chances in close, a couple of corner kicks and a free kick, but failed to capitalize. Then, early in the second half, St. Francis’ star player, Kevin Correa, scored on a blast from 30 yards out that the defense and goalkeeper Logan Keyscould do nothing about.
“Giving up the third goal was tough,” Smith said. “It’s hard to come back from three goals in 30 minutes or so. That one was the dagger in the heart.”
It was a disappointing way to end the season for LIU Brooklyn, but one with silver linings. A 5-10-2 season isn’t overly impressive, but there were strides made from the Blackbirds’ 2-14-2 season a year ago. They finished strong with a couple of conference wins against tough teams and played tremendous defense as they allowed just eight goals over their final eight games.
“From last year and the year before, there has been a lot of progress,” Kostecky said. ”We didn’t like how this game went, but leading up to this we only gave up six goals in six conference games. Defensively we’ve been much tighter. Organizing the back four, making sure the freshman were brought up to speed, these were things that we weren’t doing in the past years.”
That progress will carry over to next season as the Blackbirds are losing just two players, goalkeepers John Connolly and Nathan Stockie. Losing them hurts, but Kostecky said that the pair did a great job teaching freshman Logan Keys, who took over the starting job in late October.
“I can’t say enough about John Connolly and Nate Stockey,” Kostecky said. “They’re older, experienced players that have played big games and trained for four years. The mentorship they provided him. Goalkeeper, I think more than other positions, experience is key. You have to work at it and having them there to impart their knowledge on him helped Logan a lot this year.”
Besides those two, they literally have everyone coming back including talented freshman Nathan Stewart, who led the Blackbirds with three goals, and junior Brice Merwine, who had two goals and three assists to lead the ‘Birds with seven points. Sophomore Tanner Sica should make a big impact next year as well. The defense will also be strong with Smith once again leading the group along with junior Matt Mummert and freshman Kevin Lockhart.
“Next year we’re going to be strong,” Smith said. “We thought we improved a lot this year. We had a good run at it and we’re bringing back all of our starters so things are looking even more positive for next year.”