If fans of the Skaneateles boys soccer team were nervous early in the second half of Saturday’s Section III Class B quarterfinal against Marcellus at Hyatt Stadium, they sure had reason for it.
A barrage of chances had come up empty for the no. 2 seed Lakers, and it still trailed its neighbors and rivals by a goal. Now, in the 50th minute, Sam Gadjo’s fine run had forced a foul inside the 18-yard box, creating a penalty-kick opportunity.
Gadjo aimed for inside the left post – and Marcellus goalie Dan Balman, already the owner of some terrific stops on this gusty afternoon, dove to turn it away.
Such a situation may have caused serious consternation and fear for some teams – but not the Lakers, who maintained its poise, kept on getting opportunities and, just in time, turned it around for a 2-1 victory.
This was a familiar outcome. When these same teams met 12 days earlier on this same turf, it also ended 2-1 in favor of Skanateles, and in that game the Lakers also came back after surrendering the first goal.
Here, Marcellus was short-handed. Its top scorer, David Bosak, was injured in his team’s first-round win over Lowville, but the Mustangs were far from timid in the early going, and it it paid off.
Just 10:38 into the game, off Tristan Jarvi’s corner kick, the ball rode the wind to the left side, where Steve Matro crossed back to the middle, and Ryan Lundrigan’s well-placed header eluded Yorvan Solis and found the net.
Gradually, the Lakers shrugged off this goal and began to take control, only to run into a determined Mustangs defense that turned away most of the early runs.
Then Balman robbed Gadjo and Tylar Moss on back-to-back shots point-blank late in the first half. Between that, and the penalty kick save, it seemed that Balman had the capability to steal this match by himself.
But with 15:22 left, Andrew Moss took a free kick from midfield, 60 yards out. It reached the crease, where Gadjo got a head on it and pushed the ball past Balman to tie it, 1-1.
Five minutes later, from the right side, Tommy Reed sent a hard shot from the right side toward the left post. Balman made a terrific diving stop, but could not hold on to the ball and Owen Cheney, in the perfect spot next to Balman, was able to convert the go-ahead goal.
Having not attacked too much since its opening goal, the Mustangs, now trailing, pushed forward. Solis had to scramble for one stop with 5:50 left, and in the final minute a free kick fell to Josh Wilkinson in front of the net, who had a wide-open look – but hit it over the net.
Just getting to this game required these neighbors to make it through last Wednesday night’s frigid opening round. While Marcellus outscored Lowville, Skaneateles blanked no. 15 seed Mexico 3-0.
The Lakers, who topped the Tigers 2-1 when they first met in mid-September, needed less than three minutes to grab the lead – 2:22, to be precise, as Cheney converted the first goal.
Mexico was able to keep Skaneateles off the board the rest of the first half, helped by wind, hail and rain that made it tough for both teams to operate with any kind of fluidity.
Things got a bit scary early in the second half when the Tigers thought it had tied it 1-1 on a free kick, but were whistled for starting play too soon before the Lakers’ defenders could mark off 10 yards.
Sufficiently alarmed, Skaneateles turned up its pressure, twice hitting posts before Brandon Hellwig headed in a corner kick with 14:03 left to double the Lakers’ margin. Gadjo’s goal with 7:26 to play sealed it as it overcame 15 saves by Mexico goalie Josh Hadcock
By surviving the clash with Marcellus, Skaneateles advances to face no. 3 seed and two-time defending champion Westhill in the sectional semifinals Wednesday night at 7:30 at Jamesville-DeWitt, this after the Warriors needed overtime to get through its quarterfinal with South Jefferson in another 2-1 verdict.
The Lakers beat the Warriors 1-0 in their lone regular-season meeting in late September, and will need to repeat that if it wants to advance to the title game against Cazenovia or Camden, who knocked off top seed Watertown IHC.