Gabe Mastrangelo became the Hamburg boys soccer program’s all-time leading scorer earlier this week and ranks among the Section VI leaders with 12 goals through the first eight games of the season.
The senior striker’s surge has been more than enough offense for the defensive-minded Bulldogs, who set another school record with their seventh-straight shutout Saturday in a 1-0 win at Williamsville East, the No. 1 team in the Western New York coaches poll and fourth-ranked Class A team in the state.
“You can’t score if you don’t have the ball,” Mastrangelo said. “Our defense is solid at winning the ball and giving us our chances. We do what we do up top because of them.”
“Defending is our identity,” said senior midfielder Seth Heeter, whose corner kick set up Andrew Lauria for the winning goal on a header in the 37th minute. “We love defending and that’s what we focus on every day.”
Hamburg has outscored opponents 30-0 since a season-opening 1-0 loss to Kenmore East. The Bulldogs (7-1) entered the week ranked fourth in WNY.
The victory over Williamsville East (7-1) puts Hamburg alone in first place in ECIC II at 5-0 and at the top of the Class A1 sectional seeding standings.
Hamburg held its one-goal lead this time after allowing the Flames to come back twice last year. The teams tied in the first meeting and Williamsville East won the rematch in the final minutes to end the Bulldogs’ three-year run as division champions.
“We love playing this game every year. We mark it on our calendar,” Heeter said. “We know these guys are good. We respect them, but we want to beat them. We’re checking the rankings all the time. That definitely motivated us. We thought we should be in the discussion. We want to take that No. 1 spot in Western New York and every day we are grinding away at that.”
Nate Neudeck made most of his 10 saves late in the record-setting seventh shutout. Recruited off the basketball team, the 6-foot-2 junior hadn’t played goaltender before the start of last season.
“He has been working harder than anybody else on this team,” senior defender Austin Hubert said. “Every time we’re done with practice, his white shirt is all black from the turf or dirty from the grass.”
“Nate’s been fantastic,” coach Tony Schiappa said. “The first year, which was really the first four or five months last fall, he was still finding his rhythm. Now he’s really comfortable and the guys in front of him have the confidence in him now, so we can take more chances, and when we makes mistakes, he’s there to secure results. And today was no different, he made three or four massive saves to keep us alive.”
The previous shutout record was set in 2014 by Slavi Matin, who is now playing goalie in a Bulgarian professional league. Will Smith, an all-state defender for the Bulldogs that season, is currently Schiappa’s defensive assistant.
“It means a lot to surpass that mark because Will and Slavi and those guys are all good players,” Neudeck said. “I just have to thank my defense because they’ve been cleaning everything up.”
Hamburg has allowed the fewest goals in its division in four of the past five seasons, but Schiappa trusts his returning trio of starters on the back end enough that he switched to a 4-4-3 alignment this season to augment the attack.
Hubert, the center back, and Alex Roth, an ECIC II all-star last season, are both third-year varsity players. Mike Lange is the third savvy senior in the group.
“They have that same mindset that my team had,” Smith said. “They want to go out there and battle for every single play.”
Smith called Roth “the baddest 1v1 defender ever” at Hamburg and the Bulldogs have begun marking off part of the field as “Roth Island” in reference to his ability to take out the other team’s primary option. Against Williamsville East, that was returning All-WNY selection Tre Buscaglia, who netted the winner in last year’s second meeting and already has 10 goals this season.
“The shutout record, I never thought we’d break it today, truthfully,” said Schiappa, a former Williamsville East player. “We just wanted to take it minute by minute and win the game. It’s a credit to how hard these guys work, how switched on and dialed in they are for the full 80 minutes.”
Schiappa thought another unbreakable record might have been set in 2014 when WNY Player of the Year Shane Greene scored 28 of his 48 career goals before going on to play at Canisius College.
Until Mastrangelo, a fifth-year varsity player who has recovered from major ankle surgery following his sophomore season, found the back of the net in six straight games, notching three hat tricks during the stretch, and tallied his 49th career goal before the midway point of his senior year.
“It’s awesome to feel a little bit of fame,” Mastrangelo said. “But I couldn’t be able to do anything without my defense, my midfield, the bench, the coaches, my family, all of the families, everyone around me. It’s a team effort.”
“It’s always about what’s best for the team first,” Schiappa said. “That’s what I love about Gabe. He’s the heart of it. He has that experience where this is his fifth trip to Will East at the varsity level. So he’s talking to these guys at halftime almost like he’s the coach. He knows what to expect. These guys respect him, so when he talks, they listen.”
Hamburg now plays rival Frontier, currently ranked No. 3 in WNY, Tuesday night at Howe Field. The game is being billed as the Southtowns College Showcase Cup for the 22 seniors playing.
“That will be a fun game to play against our friends and former coaches,” Heeter said. “We can’t wait to get under the lights at Hamburg.”