Nov 06, 2007 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
A decade and a half since the East Syracuse-Minoa boys soccer team won its only Section III championship, it finally got that second crown.
And though it wasn’t easy in the end, the Spartans held on to beat its namesakes from New Hartford, 3-2, to earn that title on a chilly Friday night at SUNY-Cortland.
As his players whooped it up with the Class A championship banner, head coach Mark Carr said their closeness had a lot to do with claiming this crown.
“It feels incredible,” he said. “They have worked since seventh grade for this and came together as a unit.”
Senior forwards Andy Alaimo emphasized this bond, too.
“The best thing about this team is that we have no stars — just a bunch of great players,” he said.
All that chemistry was needed against New Hartford. Going in, the focus was on NH’s star senior forward, Andrew Steates, who had earned 39 goals this fall, including two in a 5-0 semifinal romp over Chittenango.
But it didn’t take long for ESM to show that it could put shots in the net, too. Just 4:11 into the game, Ben Rowell executed a perfect cross from the right side that Jim Dean headed past New Hartford goalie Tim Reed.
Following that, ESM’s defense went to work on Steates. They let just about every other New Hartford player handle the ball and attack, but bottled up Steates. Anthony Giangarra, L.T. Kerznowski, James Chayka, Josh Sabey and D.J. Gridley all helped in this effort.
ESM made it 2-0 in the 32nd minute, when Alaimo took a well-timed pass from Stelan Music and, from the left side, lofted a shot over Reed’s head into the net.
That lead held up through halftime and through most of the second half, too, ESM gaining confidence every time it turned away Steates and his teammates. And when Adam Rowell, off Alaimo’s feed, fired in a goal with 14:08 to play to make it 3-0, the title looked secure.
Then it nearly unraveled.
New Hartford simply refused to surrender. Will Rossi sneaked a shot past John Albanese with 9:17 left to put his team on the board. Less than two minutes later, an ESM foul in the box led to a penalty kick, which Michael Payne converted, slashing ESM’s lead to one.
Just when it had to, though, ESM regrouped, and played strong enough defense down the stretch to make that margin hold up.
To make it to that Spartan duel, ESM had to first pass through another Tri-Valley League foe in last Wednesday’s Class A semifinal at Chittenango High School, earning a 1-0 victory over no. 4 seed Vernon-Verons-Sherrill.
At the start, the Spartans enjoyed a wind advantage, and used that to keep the ball in the Red Devils’ end most of the time, creating sustained pressure.
Just 6:52 into the game, that pressure caused a mistake. Ben Rowell, fresh off a stretch of three games win three-goal hat tricks, had the ball just left of the net and tried to cross to the middle.
But the ball glanced off a V-V-S defender and fit inside the left post of the net before goalkeeper Shane Sullivan could get to it. There was little reaction to the “own goal” on either side — coming so early, and with both teams carrying potent attacks, it figured not to be the last goal on the board.
ESM could not add to its lead, though, putting more pressure on its defense once the wind (and the sun) turned in the Red Devils’ favor for the second half.
Sure enough, V-V-S started to attack more, and in the 55th minute, it almost got even, as Justin Smith, the team’s leading scorer, ripped a long shot off the left post.
For the rest of the game, the Red Devils kept the Spartans in a constant defensive mode. Handling it well, the back line of James Chayka, Kyle Langlois, L.T. Kerznowski and Josh Sabey deflected away most of the chances, and Albanese made seven saves.
This led to the title game against New Hartford. Carr said that, after this so-so effort against V-V-S, he knew his team had to step up.
“The kids realized that it was a big game, and that the intensity had to be there,” he said.
With that realization, the Spartans are sectional champions, bound for Wednesday’s Class A regional playoff game against Section II champion Burnt Hills. ESM must win two regional games in order to advance to next weekend’s state final four at the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta.