SYRACUSE — The Cortland High girls’ soccer team rallied to send Wednesday’s Section 3 Class A semifinal game with Whitesboro to overtime on a cold, wet night. Warrior senior forward Haylee Smith made sure it didn’t happen twice.
Smith scored what proved to be the game-winning goal 2:32 into the first of two overtime periods at Christian Brothers Academy as sixth-seeded Whitesboro scored a 2-1 win over the second- seeded Purple Tigers, who finished the season at 14-3-1.
“It’s tough to come back twice, to dig holes and then come back,” CHS coach Ilona Ryon said, her team ranked 16th in the state in Class A this week. “Whitesboro played a fast and aggressive style. I think after a few times of getting put under pressure, we began to panic and played the long ball instead of passing to feet like we normally do. We also did not move off the ball as well, which prevented us from making safe passes to our feet. To Whitesboro’s credit, they are fast and strong up top.”
“Their unfamiliar style of play made it difficult for us to find a rhythm,” Cortland assistant coach Ryan Bilodeau said.
“The girls played together up and down the field and played selfless, the word that’s our motto,” Whitesboro coach John Destito said, his team now 11-7 on the season. “We had one goal tonight, to go out and try to finish. You never know what’s going to happen in overtime, so we stressed to them that they had to play hard the full 20 minutes, and they did. We knew Cortland is strong and would play hard, and they did. But we never gave up, never let up.
“This team had one goal at the beginning of the season, and that was to win sectional finals. We’re one step closer.”
The next step comes Saturday, when the Warriors meet ninetime defending sectional Class A champion Jamesville-DeWitt, this year’s top seed, Friday at 6:30 p.m. on the SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex’s White field. The Red Rams, ranked second in this week’s state Class A poll, are 17-0 after beating No. 5 East Syracuse- Minoa 3-1 Tuesday night in the other Class A sectional semifinal.
Smith scored the decisive goal, her second of the game and 21st of the season, while falling, finding the back of the net from 12 yards out in the center of the field after a crossing pass from the right wing by senior forward Kayla Alsheimer. “Kayla crossed the ball and I went for it,” said Smith. “I got behind the defender and got a toe on it; she pushed me as I did and that actually gave the shot more force. We knew that Cortland had a good forward (junior Tori Cruz) and fast center backs, and knew what we had to do. In overtime we knew we had it; once we got the goal it built our confidence even more.”
Smith had opened the scoring 12:42 into the game with an unassisted goal, controlling a loose ball in front after a corner kick by Alsheimer and putting a looping shot past Cortland junior goalie Marissa Gilmore. “The ball came in, I said ‘I’ve got it,’ turned and shot it,” she said. “I went far post.”
Cruz got the unassisted equalizer — her 21st of the season, and as it turned out Cortland’s only goal of the night — with 18:03 left in the first half, sending a rocket into the upper left corner of the net from 15 yards out on the right side. Junior midfielder Grace Call took a high shot from 30 yards out that Whitesboro freshman goalie Nora Vick tipped up and then grabbed 3:30 before halftime.
Freshman back Maia Quick broke up a pair of Whitesboro two-on-one advantages in a two-minute span, the first with 14 minutes left in the first half. Gilmore made a couple of key saves, including one on a bouncing shot from the left wing with 1:30 left in the half. Quick was shaken up and had to leave the game with 10:29 left in regulation.
The Purple Tigers’ key defensive play came with 25:40 left in regulation when CHS junior back Jenicah Brown cleared a shot from near the goal line after Warriors junior forward Alyssa DellaPosta had gotten past Gilmore and looked to have an open net to put the ball into.
“Jenicah made a sliding save just before the goal line,” Ryon said. “It was amazing. We have two of the fastest center backs in the league in Maia and Jenicah, and they did a good job of not letting (Whitesboro) have through balls. I was also proud of several girls who played through pain tonight.”
Whitesboro had a 16-11 advantage in shots while Cortland owned corner kicks by a 7-3 margin. Gilmore made 13 saves while Vick had eight.
In looking back over the season, Ryon said that “It has been such an pleasure to coach these girls this season, to have everyone on the team with the same vision and desire to work hard. They’re all team players. We’ll come back way hungrier next year.
“We will miss Elyssa Yonta (a back/midfielder and the team’s only senior) and her strong work ethic. She played fearlessly and always pushed herself to play hard.”