Stark saves the day for St. Mary’s

Dylan Butler

The pain in Fred Stark’s left shoulder, which popped out for the fifth time in the last six months, paled in comparison to watching St. Mary’s Manhasset blow a three-goal lead and trail by one with less than 15 minutes remaining in a crucial CHSAA clash with Kellenberg Tuesday afternoon. 

“It’s a team game and I’m not going to let myself sit on the side,” the senior midfielder said. “If we’re going to go down, we’ll go down together. I couldn’t sit on the side and watch my team.”

Stark subbed himself back into the match and scored the dramatic equalizer with 62 seconds left in the second half to lift St. Mary’s to a wild 4-4 draw in Manhasset. 

“He’s got that ‘it factor’ you talk about,” St. Mary’s coach Rob Sventora said. “He loves the game, breaths the game, understands the game and he reads the game. He’s taken that leadership role.”

With St. Mary’s (5-3-6, 2-3-3 CHSAA) facing a crushing loss after conceding four goals in a span of 24 minutes, Stark provided the late-game heroics. His first-time attempt at the back post off of Matt Giaconelli’s went into the net for his second goal of the game. 

Stark raced up the sideline with his right arm raised, the throbbing pain in his left shoulder momentarily subsided to ensure the Gaels earn one point with 1:02 left in the second half. 

“As a captain I do feel I have an obligation to give them everything I’ve got,” Stark said. “The team deserves it. I couldn’t have done it without my team. I couldn’t have scored the goal without someone passing it to me.”

Stark, the Gaels maestro in the midfield, scored his first goal in the 34th minute, latching on goalkeeper Nyrik Antoine’s long punt behind the Firebirds defense and lobbed a shot over the Kellenberg keeper, off the crossbar and into the net. 

It was the Gaels third goal in seven minutes and St. Mary’s went into halftime with what appeared to be a commanding 3-0 lead. 

“It is one of the best 45 minutes we have played,” Stark said. “We have been playing pretty well with this formation. As seniors we realize this is our last chance to do something, so we’re trying to pull it together as a team and do something.”

The new formation has meant moving key playmakers in the midfield, including Giaconelli, to other areas of the field. The result is a 2-1-1 record in the Gaels last four games. 

“Truth be told, we built this team around the midfield and we’ve since broken up that five and spread them out to give us some more depth from top to bottom,” Sventora said. 

Daniel Mendonca put St. Mary’s in front, 1-0, in the 27th minute and the Gaels doubled their lead three minutes later on a Kellenberg own goal following Alan Stark’s throw-in. 

Storm clouds started to surface in the second half when Fred Stark left the game with a shoulder injury. Then Nicholas Aquino flicked a header in following a Kellenberg corner kick and Sean Moore knocked in Ryan Pistone’s free kick one minute later. 

“We try to promote and preach team, but he’s one of the cogs in the wheel of this team and when he goes down, it’s going to a bench player and our bench is young,” Sventora said. 

Things continued to unravel for the Gaels when Danny Kenny capitalized on an Antoine miscue to equalize in the 71st minute and Gabriel Fernandez put the Firebirds (2-5-4, 2-2-3) in front, 4-3, on a 77th minute penalty kick. 

But Fred Stark saved the Gaels from a devastating loss with his dramatic equalizer. Still, Sventora knows his team squandered a golden chance to move into sole possession of fourth place in the NSCHSAA standings. Instead, they remain tied with Kellenberg, which has a game in hand. 

“It stings, it’s going to hurt for a while,” Sventora said. “The boys are down there [in the locker room] sobbing because they know they blew a tremendous opportunity.”

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Dylan Butler

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