A single burst by Abby Eschen - and suddenly, years of frustration for the Cazenovia field hockey team in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association playoffs melted away.
Eschen's three-goal hat trick, two of them scored less than a minute apart in the first half, made the difference as the Lakers beat Section IV champion Whitney Point, 3-1, in Tuesday's Class C regional game at Greene High School.
Even though it's the fifth straight time Cazenovia had reached the regional playoffs as a Section III champion (two in Class B, three in Class C), it had never made it out of the regional phase before.
Usually, it involved a Section IV power like Marathon standing in the way. But Marathon was gone, beaten by Whitney Point in the sectional final, and instead it was the young Eagles going up against the experienced - and hungry - Lakers.
Forcing the tempo early, Cazenovia made a series of runs at Whitney Point, seeking a breakthrough. Midway through the first half, it arrived in a big way.
Eschen found herself open and put a shot into the net, giving Cazenovia a 1-0 lead. Before the Eagles could even settle down, the Lakers attacked again - and Eschen converted again, the two goals accounting for the Lakers' ultimate winning margin.
Amanda Collins' goal for Whitney Point helped the Eagles pull within 2-1 at halftime, forcing Cazenovia to spend the second half protecting that lead - which it did.
Defenders Ellen Burr, Raeanne Clabeaux, SarahRose Gabor and Molly Hudson were tested, but they mostly held up, and Emily Mastropaolo came up with nine saves and a shutout in those last 30 minutes.
As if that were not enough, Eschen returned to notch her third goal and complete the hat trick. Jillian Vogl added an assist as Whitney Point paid a dear price for giving too much defensive attention to the likes of Tori Widrick and Belle Hoagland.
Just one win now separates Cazenovia (18-2) from next weekend's state final four at Cicero-North Syracuse's Bragman Stadium, and it can be attained Saturday when the Lakers meet Section II champion Greenwich Saturday at 1:30 at Shenendehowa High School in Clifton Park, near Albany.
Cazenovia is the lone Section III team left after Camden (in Class B) and Baldwinsville (in Class A) both lost regional games in overtime - the Blue Devils to Maine-Endwell 3-2, the Bees to Greene 1-0.