By Five Boro Sports
It was the 75th minute and Flushing was clinging to a one-goal lead. New Utrecht senior Salvatrice Oliveri was all alone, chasing down the ball near the top of the Red Devils’ 18-yard box. If she got to it before senior goalkeeper Michelle Berbery, it would have almost surely been the tying goal.
“It was scary for me,” Flushing freshman Melissa Lijo said. “My heart was pumping. I didn’t know what was gonna happen next.”
In a dead sprint, Berbery deflected the ball, gained control and kicked it harmlessly away out of bounds. Lijo could calm down. No. 1 Flushing held on for a 2-1 win against No. 2 New Utrecht in the PSAL Class B girls’ soccer championship game June 9 at Randall’s Island. It is the Red Devils’ first-ever title.
“It’s my job to do that,” Berbery said of the crucial save.
In her freshman and sophomore seasons, Flushing (17-0-0) was a combined 2-21. On Tuesday, the Red Devils completed the incredible turnaround. Berbery was emotional afterward. She wrapped up the PSAL championship banner and held it close to her as she left the field.
“I can’t let go of it,” Berbery said. “It’s a great feeling.”
Flushing was on the board relatively quickly — Lijo scored in the 13th minute — and it looked as if the Red Devils would put together another dominant performance in a season full of them. But there were no other goals by halftime and, in the 53rd minute, senior Katherine Salcedo put in the equalizer for New Utrecht (13-1-2).
Seven minutes later, though, Flushing scored what would eventually be the game-winning goal. Lijo’s corner kick found the chest of senior Ana Guallyasaca, who used her body creatively to deflect the ball in with 20 minutes left.
After the game, the Red Devils mobbed each other on the field and doused Coach Chris Zogopoulos with water.
“What an experience to jell with these girls and start from nothing,” said the coach, who is in just his first year after coaching at Frank Sinatra High School and with the Downtown United club team. “It was beautiful.”
Lijo scored the first goal, Berbery made the key save and Guallyasaca tallied the game-winner, but Zogopoulos said his most valuable player was Sara Lijo, Melissa’s twin sister. The freshman has been Flushing’s defensive stopper all season and she frustrated New Utrecht’s high-powered offense of New Utrecht all game. More than that, she was doing it after getting hit in the ribs hard in the first half — she said at halftime she was having trouble breathing.
Zogopoulos took her immediately to the trainer, who said she was good to go for the second half. She clearly didn’t have much trouble dealing with it.
“That kid played her heart out,” Zogopoulos said. “She was hurting. What a heart. I can’t say enough about that kid.”
Flushing loses Berbery, Guallyasaca and two other seniors, but brings back the Lijo sisters and junior forward Andrea Jimenez. Due to the girls’ soccer season changing to the fall, there will be no teams moving up from the ‘B’ to the ‘A,’ so the Red Devils will get the unique opportunity to defend their championship in the ‘B’ league. Arts & Business, another Queens team, was the last to do that in 2004 and 2005.
“This is just the beginning,” Zogopoulos said. “We have a very strong nucleus.”
©2009 Community News Group
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