Nov 04, 2008 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Nineteen long years after it last finished on top, and two years after a near-miss in the final round, the Skaneateles boys soccer team has returned to the top of the Section III Class B ranks.
The Lakers achieved this feat Monday night at Chittenango High School, playing one of its best games of the season to upend South Jefferson 3-0 and advance to Saturday’s regional final against Section IV champion Chenango Forks at the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta.
The last Skaneateles team to win a sectional title in boys soccer came in 1989 — before any of the current players were born, and occurring when current head coach Kirk Atwater and his assistants were members of the team.
And the team that ended this long drought was a young, confident bunch of players that, on its way to the finals, upended Class B top seed Mount Markham and also needed a penalty-kick shoot-out to get past Lowville.
Every Laker fan remembered how the 2006 title quest had ended in a narrow 1-0 defeat to Clinton and it did not want a repeat of that memory.
But South Jefferson provided a tough challenge. In a singular quest to upend the entire OHSL Liberty division elite, the Spartans had stunned no. 2 seed Westhill (4-1) and no. 3 seed Cazenovia (4-2) on the road to get this far.
For most of the first half, Skaneateles and South Jefferson played on fairly even terms, neither side producing a wide array of scoring chances.
It all turned, though, in the 35th minute, when the Lakers attacked — and a Spartan player was caught with a handball inside the 18-yard box, leading to a penalty kick. Spencer Parker, one of the few seniors on the Skaneateles roster, drilled the ball straight into the top center of the net, and Skaneateles led 1-0.
From that point forward, the Lakers dominated. Less than eight minutes into the second half, Parker’s long free kick got mishandled by South Jefferson goalkeeper Eric Pond, allowing Ryan Farrell to swoop in and poke it into the net.
Farrell would return less than five minutes later to assist on Eric Stucker’s goal that iced it. It was rather fitting that Stucker got that final goal since his older brother, Greg, was one of the stars on the Skaneateles team that lost the ’06 sectional final, and this made for sweet payback.
Just as sweet was the work of the Lakers’ defense as Farrell, Kelly Donigan, Michael Richards and Zach Brownlee shut down anything South Jefferson tried to establish — a stark contrast to the high-scoring attack that had taken out Westhill and Cazenovia.
Of course, the Lakers had to go through a lot of drama just to get to the finals. In a marathon semifinal last Thursday at Chittenango High School, Skaneateles needed to prevail in a penalty-kick shoot-out to eliminate no. 5 seed Lowville after the two sides played to a 1-1 tie.
Both regulation goals had come in the first half. A.J. Capone put Lowville on the board less than two minutes into the game, only to see Skaneateles answer when Jeff Higman scored off a feed from Bryan Stokes.
Then the defensive standoff began. Through a 40-minute second half and 30 minutes of sudden-death overtime, the Lakers and Raiders duked it out.
Skaneateles had a majority of the chances, only to get thwarted by Lowville goalie Zach Haenlin, who finished with 11 saves. For his part, Laker goalie Jake Bird had eight saves.
With the teams still tied at the end of regulation, they would need a shoot-out to decide who would play South Jefferson in the finals.
Each side got five kicks. Lowville, going first in each round, twice missed thanks to spectacular saves by Bird. But Skaneateles calmly converted all four of its kicks to advance to the championship game — where nearly two decades of frustration came to an end.