Manlius Even after a long layoff, and even with the stakes raised for the post-season, the Cazenovia field hockey team quickly found its winning form and moved to the brink of an eighth consecutive Section III championship.
The top-seeded Lakers returned to action Sunday afternoon in the Class C semifinals at Fayetteville-Manlius, where it used a pair of scoring bursts to put away Port Byron/Union Springs 4-0.
As a result, Cazenovia goes to New Hartford on Wednesday night to face Holland Patent in the sectional finals. The Golden Knights defeated Little Falls 3-1 Saturday in the other semifinal game.
Nearly two weeks had passed since the Lakers had last taken the field. Ironically, it was against the same Port Byron/Union Springs side it would face in the playoffs, Cazenovia handling the Panthers 4-1 on Oct. 15 at Burton Street to add to a 2-1 victory on Sept. 23.
That long layoff created some rust for the Lakers, especially when compared to Port Byron, the no. 4 seed, who had blanked Clinton 3-0 in last Tuesday's opening round.
So perhaps it wasn't a big surprise that Cazenovia was sluggish in the opening minutes, rarely able to organize an attack. Meanwhile, the Panthers applied some pressure and got some penalty corners, with Meredith Shephard able to make a key block to prevent a point-blank shot from the opposition.
Then, at the 12:17 mark, the Lakers converted off its third penalty corner. Instead of relying on a hard shot, it used a series of short passes to set up Hannah Light-Olson's shot into the box, with Shephard getting credit for the assist.
Less than six minutes later, the Lakers, who were getting some fast breaks whenever Port Byron tried to rush forward in its attack, saw one of those breaks pay off when Rachel McLaughlin, back from the concussion that sidelined her late in the regular season, put home the goal that made it 2-0, where it stood at halftime.