November 18, 2012
Want to find success stories and local high school teams still fighting for state championships? Look to the female side, and do so exclusively.
Whether in volleyball, or field hockey, or girls soccer, no less than five Section III sides made their way to Championship Sunday. None did so among the guys.
And that included CBA football. The biggest problem for the Brothers in its 26-14 defeat to Orchard Park in the state semifinals in Rochester was that it just could not run the ball against the Quakers' defense.
Forced to be one-dimensional and go exclusively through the air, J.R. Zazzara threw for 276 yards and threw a pair of touchdown passes, but he also tossed three interceptions and watched as OP's own vaunted ground attack, led by Mitchell Wilson and Ben Holmes, ran for more than 350 yards.
This sets up the parade of state finals next weekend at the Dome. It's Randolph against Tuckahoe in Class D, Sweet Home and Burnt Hills (again) in Class A, Hornell going for four in a row and 52 straight wins against Hoosick Falls in Class C, Maine-Endwell meeting Glens Falls in Class B and Orchard Park taking on New Rochelle in the AA title game.
Oh, but where were we? Oh yes, the girls teams. Seven went into various state tournaments, and five are still going.
At Glens Falls, Skaneateles, in Class B volleyball, swept past Pelham and Johnstown, winning four straight sets. Thus, it could afford to split two remaining sets with John Glenn, knowing that the Lakers and Glenn will see each other again Sunday morning for the big prize.
Baldwinsville made it too, but it wasn't that easy. The Bees lost both first sets against Ward Melville and Rochester Mercy, salvaged splits, and also split with Clarkstown South to end up 3-3. Still, it was enough to reach the finals against Mercy. Will it be atonement for the 2011 defeat to Webster Schroeder? If so, it would be two state titles in three years.
LaFayette met a different fate in Class D, only taking one set out of six to fall out of contention. So it also was at Cortland High School for the first girls soccer team to take the field in the state final four.
Sauquoit Valley, looking to repeat its finals appearances in 2009 and 2010, pushed Keshequa to overtime, only to surrender two goals in that first 10-minute extra period, leading to a 3-1 defeat. Now it was up to Poland and Jamesville-DeWitt to carry the local banner.
Neither would disappoint. In Class D, Mikayla Blumenstock's hot streak continued as she and Paige Sullivan scored to put the Tornadoes in front of Jasper-Troupsburg 2-1 by halftime. Somehow, that slim lead held the rest of the way, and Poland is in its first-ever state final, taking the measure of Chateaugay in the championship match.
J-D, too, is brand-new to all this, but it sure has found a winning playoff formula - get a goal early and let the defense do the rest. That happened against Whitesboro in the sectional final, against Burnt Hills in the regional final breakthrough, and again here when the Red Rams pfought its way past Brightonp in that familiar 1-0 manner.
Here, it took a Jessica Holmes goal midway through the first half, a defense that again shut down anything an opponent tried, right up to Jessica Kopp's blinding save with four minutes left when goalie Allison Butler was out of position. Now all J-D has to do is beat...17-time (that's not a misprint) state champion South Side in the finals. The only way it could end, right?
And it hasn't ended for Liverpool's field hockey side, either. In an incredibly tense state Class A semifinal at Bragman Stadium, the Warriors psomehow, somewayp, got past Niskayuna.
It merely involved falling behind in the first half, zooming out in front on two big plays by Emma Lamison in the second half, watching the Silver Warriors tie it again late in regulation, then the agony of one overtime, another overtime and seven penalty strokes before Emily Burns converted and Megan Evangelista made the final saves.
Now the Warriors might be heavy underdogs Sunday against the champs from Sachem East, who buried Williamsville North 6-0 in the other semifinal. But even though it's a state final, really Liverpool has no pressure. Which might lead to something amazing.
Less amazing was what happened to all three of Section III's remaining boys soccer teams on Saturday in Middletown, who met the same fate as Baldwinsville's boys volleyball team, whose 2-4 mark in round-robin play left them out of Sunday's finals in Glens Falls.
On the pitch, Poland could not solve perennial power Chazy in a 1-0 decision in Class D. Utica Proctor's magical run in Class AA ended when Arlington scored twice in the second half to prevail 2-0.
Most heartbreaking of all was Fowler, who met Port Chester in the Class A state semifinals. The Falcons led 1-0 when Jean-Paul Mboyo made a penalty kick, only to have the Rams answer less than 90 seconds later.
And there it stayed, 1-1, until overtime, when Preston Higgins delivered a perfect header off a long cross that found the net, giving Port Chester the 2-1 win and causing total devastation to the Fowler players who had come so far, from so many places, to inspire so many on the city's West Side.
At the end, though, as the Falcons picked up their awards in the Middletown High School gym, a bus full of Fowler students, teachers and other supporters, who had left after the game only to turn around, arrived to congratulate their crestfallen peers.
They showed true school spirit, being there not just when it was glorious, but when it was tough to take. it makes me proud to do this stuff all over again.