For the 16 seniors that form the core of the Westhill boys soccer team, the fact that it had a chance to earn the program’s second state championship to match the one earned back in 1992 was important.
Just as significant, though, was a chance for two previous state final four visits to Middletown that had not ended with the big prize, having lost in the finals in 2016 and the semifinals in 2017.
Given a third chance in as many years to get the ending right, the Warriors capitalized – and by beating Briarcliff 1-0 Sunday afternoon, that second state championship was attained.
Briarcliff hailed from Section I, the same section as Hastings, who beat Westhill in that state final two years ago, and the Bears held the no. 1 state ranking, none of which daunted the Warriors one bit.
They played on even terms through the early going, neither side breaking through. Westhill goalie Liam Robb had to make a diving stop on Alex Cabeca’s shot midway through the half. Plays like this helped Robb earn tournament MVP honors.
At the break, it was still 0-0, and it remained that way deep into the second half, too, though the Warriors were getting more chances since it switched to five midfielders to take away some of the Bears’ possession time.
By the 56th minute, the Warriors were doing enough to think it could take advantage of a throw-in deep in Briarcliff territory. Fittingly, three seniors put together the winning sequence.
Charlie Bolesh took the throw, finding Reilly Sizing. One-timing it, Sizing quickly found Braden Krzykowski in front of the net, and Krzykowski’s header fit inside the left post.
There was still more than 23 minutes left, but Briarcliff could not answer Westhill’s lone goal. Defenders like Bolesh, Philip Zollo and Ryan Bennett kept Bears forwards in check, and Robb completed the most important shutout of his high school career.
Westhill certainly impressed the day before in its 3-1 victory over Section II champion Schalmont in Saturday’s state semifinal, where the Warriors seized full control early and stifled the Sabres until the latter stages.
Almost from the opening kickoff, the Warriors were the aggressor, keeping Schalmont pinned in its own end as it probed and waited for good chances to convert.
Bo BenYehuda nearly put his team in front in the 16th minute, but got denied by Sabres goalie Ryan Taylor. Less than five minutes later, though, when Taylor could not hold on to a BenYehuda shot, Jack Grooms swooped in to put the rebound in the net.
Even with a wind advantage and a barrage of chances late in the half, it was still 1-0 at the break, which left Westhill vulnerable to a Schalmont rally should it materialize.
Krzykowski made sure it did not, taking a pass from Mack Etoll, finding his way through a trio of Sabres defenders and then beating Taylor for a goal before the second half was four minutes old.
Then Etoll got his turn in the 55th minute, helped by a Schalmont turnover that turned into a third goal. Though Devin Renaud scored a few minutes later to get the Sabres on the board, the Warriors contained things from there.
All of this followed the first state semifinal, where Briarcliff edged East Aurora (Section VI) 1-0. By that same margin the next day, it was Westhill on top of the Bears –and on top of the state, too.