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When Alexander Hamilton coach Robert Segaloff asks his players what they want to do in college, they’re quick to reply: “Play soccer.”
The Raiders eat, sleep and breathe the sport. That dedication translated into Hamilton’s first Section 1 title in 29 years with a victory over Solomon Schechter.
They didn’t stop there, either.
Behind two second-half goals, Hamilton bested Section 9’s S.S. Seward, 2-0, in a NYS Class C regional semifinal on Tuesday night at Purchase College.
“We knew they were going to come out hard,” Hamilton junior Jesus Gonzalez said. “We just came out stronger and played with heart.”
Right out of halftime, in the 42nd minute, senior Marcos Ayala broke loose and put Hamilton up 1-0 off an assist from junior Luis Hernandez.
“I like scoring for the team and I just want to win,” Ayala said through a translator. “It’s a great feeling.”
At halftime, Segaloff told his players that the first team that scores is going to win.
“This game is not about skill, it’s all about heart in this one,” Segaloff told them. “Whoever wants it more is going to take it.”
Sophomore Giovanni Gutierrez added an insurance goal on yet another assist from Hernandez in the 68th minute.
Hamilton had its chances in the first half. Senior Nixon Vacacela hit the crossbar as halftime neared.
“We did the same thing that we did against Schechter,” Segaloff said. “We had shot after shot after shot, and just couldn’t find the net (in the first half). For the most part, we kept our composure today.”
Hamilton defeated Seward 2-0 during the regular season, which gave them plenty of confidence heading into the match.
“Coach showed us a video of the last game,” Gonzalez said. “We know how they played and that helped give us the win today.”
Overall, the Raiders are a rather undersized team and know in order to be successful they must keep the ball on the ground.
“That’s to our advantage,” Gonzalez said. “We have speed and skill. We just stay with it and play our game.”
Hamilton, which improved to 13-5-1, shutdown Seward’s towering leading scorer Anthony Bailey. Bailey, a striker, had a considerable height advantage on every Raiders player, but he didn’t get a chance to use it as Seward had very few corners.
“He didn’t get the ball a whole lot in the first half so he started drifting toward the midfield,” Segaloff said of Bailey. “He kind of took himself out as a threat. I wasn’t too worried about him.”
Goalkeeper Mark Larios made three saves for the Raiders. Dalton Gill stopped five shots for Seward (17-4).
Hamilton moves on to the NYS Class C regional final where it will face Section 11’s Port Jefferson on Saturday, November 12 at Purchase College at 2 p.m. Port Jefferson knocked off defending state champ Friends Academy in the Long Island title game.
“They’re loving every minute they’re on the soccer field,” Segaloff said. “This is what they want to do.”
And they’ll have the chance to do it at least one more time.
Follow Rob DiAntonio on Twitter @MSGV_RJD