Steven Hernandez makes a run for the Port Chester Rams in the Oct. 17 game against Harrison. Hernandez was named to the All-State soccer team for the second year in a row.File photo
Steven Hernandez makes a run for the Port Chester Rams in the Oct. 17 game against Harrison. Hernandez was named to the All-State soccer team for the second year in a row.

File photo
Port Chester Rams senior striker Stephen Hernandez, arguably one of the best soccer players in school history, was named to the All-State soccer team last weekend-the second consecutive year he has earned that honor.

Hernandez was also named the league's co-Most Valuable Player award with Byram Hills' Jack Beers, an insight into how closely both teams were matched because the Rams shared the league championship with Byram Hills.

There was one significant difference between Beers and Hernandez-Beers left school to train with the intensive soccer training incubator that is the U.S. Soccer Academy which recruits elite scholastic players.

Chose to stay

Hernandez had the same opportunity but chose instead to play solely for P.C.

"Win or lose, I grew up playing with these guys," he said. "They are my teammates. They have a lot of talent. And I love playing with them."

Hernandez played so well that the Rams' record was a perhaps never-to-be-equaled 57-14-5 record during the years Stevie Wonder played varsity ball.

He scored his first varsity goal as an eighth grader when he was called up to play with the varsity in the playoffs at SUNY Purchase.

He scored his last varsity goal there Oct. 26 when then seventh-seeded Yorktown upset the second-seeded Rams 2-1 Oct. 26 in the quarterfinals of the ultra-competitive Section One Double A sectional championships.

Ironic goal

Ironically, that one goal differential made a major difference in the way the teams were placed in the 2015 final rankings for the lower Hudson Valley.

Yorktown (11-5-4) ranked third behind second place Pearl River (20-3)-a team the Rams beat easily during the regular season-and top ranked Arlington (19-1-1), the class Double A sectional champions, co-regional champs and the team that beat Yorktown 2-1 for the sectional title.

Port Chester was ranked seventh behind Scarsdale (4), Tappan Zee (5) and Byram Hills (6).

But good as that was, and the 14-4 Rams were very good indeed, the indelible memory of the season will always be Hernandez slumped to the ground, kneeling there long after the Yorktown game was over, long after Yorktown's goalie Giuliano Santucci, a U.S. Soccer Academy grad, had made several spectacular saves that ultimately cost Port Chester the game despite near tying and winning scores blasted off the foot of Hernandez, Kevin Valdovinos and Fabian Reyes.

Final image

That final image of Hernandez slumped in defeat was in marked contrast to the way he celebrated as a freshman when he scored the winning goal in overtime to beat Byram Hills 2-1 for the sectional championship under the lights at John Jay-East Fishkill. That came after Byram Hills edged P.C. for the league title on percentage points based on goals scored and the won-and-lost record against comparable opponents after both teams finished with identical records.

That sectional championship goal also marked one of the great scoring runs in Port Chester history with Hernandez going on to score seven of the 12 goals in the post-season that saw P.C. win the regional title that year only to have the injury-depleted Rams come up one goal short of the school's first state championship during a 2-1 loss to defending state champion Jericho.

Rams goalie José Gonzalez was named to the All-State team that year just as Kevin Riveros made the All-State team the year before. Hernandez was so beat up and banged up from being constantly double and triple teamed leading up to that state championship game that he could barely lift his arm, but he insisted on playing even though he was off balance and hurting.

A marked man

From then on, Hernandez was a marked man throughout the rest of his high school career, not only double and triple teamed but also hit and hammered mercilessly by opponents so the soccer pitch became almost like a boxing ring.

Despite the beating that he took, Hernandez never complained, playing like a true champion, scoring 17 goals and racking up six assists as a sophomore as the Rams were moved up to Double A, the most competitive division in Section One, and scoring 13 goals with 11 assists as a junior, sacrificing his own scoring potential to feed senior Luis (Poacher) Morales for a number of his 18 goals and five assists.

Mamaroneck knocked the Rams out of the sectional title race in the semi-finals that year on penalty kicks at the end of double overtime after Morales was thrown out of the game on a disputed penalty at the end of regulation. That left Mamaroneck free to gang up on Hernandez. And gang up they did, giving him a brutal pounding and getting away with it.

Boxing image

So the pitch as a boxing ring for Hernandez becomes especially apropos because on the same weekend that Stevie Wonder was named to the All-State soccer team, yet one more tribute to the way Hernandez developed the blood lines begun by his father who once was a soccer star in Mexico, Mexico was dominating what retired boxing great-turned-fight-promoter Oscar De La Hoya called the Super Bowl of Latino Boxing.

Saul (Canelo) Alvarez of Mexico outpointed Miguel Cotto of Puerto Rico for the World Boxing Championship (WBC) middleweight title while Francisco Vargas of Mexico scored a technical knockout in the ninth round to beat Takashi Miura of Japan for the WBC featherweight championship on the final undercard bout at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. That occurred last Saturday night while the faces of legendary Mexican boxing champions Marco Antonio Barrera and Julio Cesar Chavez flashed on the big screen above the ring.

That, of course, was a Latino drama played out on a national stage while at this point Hernandez has been playing soccer for P.C. on a local scholastic stage, albeit that stage has led to his being named to the All-State team. But look for Stevie Wonder to go on to play at a national level when he moves on to college. And Port Chester may never see a player of his ability again.