By all accounts, the Westhill boys soccer team should have found itself at SUNY-Cortland last Friday night, dealing with Marcellus with a shot at reclaiming the Section III Class B crown it last wore in 2004.
Instead, the Warriors' season ended in the most difficult manner possible -- a defeat to the Lowville Red Raiders in a 4-2 penalty-kick shoot-out during Tuesday's Class B semifinals at Chittenango High School after they played to a 1-1 draw.
If Westhill wanted to point to anyone for the reason why it all went wrong, it could point right to Lowville goalkeeper Zach Haenlin, who made superb stops throughout the game, then did it twice more in the shoot-out.
Even before the game, Westhill head coach Roland Ficken said he figured Lowville would pack in its defense around Haenlin because it did not possess the vast array of speed and skill players the Warriors could boast about.
By the 16th minute, the Raiders had even more of a reason to turn defensive. Off a free kick in the middle, Matt Gravely ripped a low shot past Westhill goalkeeper Ben Wind just inside the right post, giving Lowville a 1-0 edge.
And it would stay that way for a while. By halftime, the Warriors were starting to dominate the flow of play, forcing the Raiders to surround Haenlin and make sure he didn't have to do all the work.
The second half mostly amounted to a 40-minute cycle where Vince Scaravillo, Tim Murphy, Ross Martin and Matt Kavanaugh all took their turns dribbling deep into Lowville's end. Still, they were forced into bad shots or, in the case of corner kicks and free kicks, saw their set plays fall apart.
Haenlin continued to be superb. In the 56th minute, he jumped to tip a dangerous Murphy shot just over the net. With 9:05 left, he made a remarkable save on Kavanaugh, who directed the shot toward Hanelin even though the right side of the net was unoccupied.