The Cincinnatus girls’ soccer team finally exorcised a persistent demon Saturday night, though it took a little extra time and effort under cold, soggy conditions.
Never have soaked, chilled and exhausted felt so good as they did to the second-seeded Red Lions after they earned a share of the Section 3 Class D championship in a 0-0 tie with top seed Poland on the SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex’s White Field. The deadlock through 80 minutes of regulation time, two 10-minute overtime periods and two five-minute sudden-victory sessions meant that penalty kicks would be needed to determine which one advanced to state regional play.
Cincy emerged victorious, 4-2, and will face the Section 4 D champion, either Downsville or South Kortright, Friday at Herkimer County CC at 5:30 p.m.
The Red Lions, now 18-0-1, were ranked second among the state’s Class D teams in the latest poll, with the Tornadoes (also 18-0-1) in the top spot. Poland came in having won five of the last six Class D sectional crowns, beating Cincinnatus somewhere along the post-season route in all five title years, including a 4-1 win in last year’s championship game. In addition to ending that streak, coach Lisa Sustad’s team became the first Cincy girls’ soccer squad to win a sectional crown.
Asked how the run of disappointment affected her team, Sustad said “The girls were just so ready. They played a great game Wednesday (in a 6-0 semifinal win against No. 6 Remsen) and I knew if they played that way tonight they’d come out on top. One of my biggest things for this year and becoming a coach for the first time was getting Poland right here and right now and we focused on that a lot this year. We prepared them all year for this game.”
Kara Steacy and the Cincy defense were the keys to the deadlock and the penalty kick win. The senior goalie made 18 saves to seven for Poland’s Emily Schraeder as the Tornadoes had a 30-12 shot advantage and took 13 corner kicks to the Red Lions’ four.
“Kara was out of this world, phenomenal,” Sustad said. “We’ve been practicing penalty kicks in practice, and I knew when this game went to PKs that we were going to get it. She was nervous; I wasn’t.”
While she was steady and sure-handed all night, Steacy’s best save in the game came 4:40 into the second half when she was able to tip away a hard shot by Poland junior forward Riley Wisheart that was headed for the upper right corner and had goal written all over it.
“I didn’t think I was going to save that one at first, but I got it,” said Steacy, who won the Golden Gloves award for the game’s best goaltending. “I knew I had to help my team out a lot; Poland is solid and strong, and took a lot of really good shots. I’m proud of the whole team, and our defense played a really good game. Without them, Poland probably would have beaten us.”
Steacy also made a diving save of a shot to the lower left corner by Poland midfielder Alexis Bates 21:45 before halftime, among other standout stops.
Cincy’s two best offensive chances came with 8:30 left in the first half, when Schraeder had to tip and then grab a direct kick by eighth-grade midfielder Kyla Sustad, and with 20 seconds left in regulation when she tipped a direct kick by senior forward Delaney Rutan from 20 yards out and controlled it with players from both sides bearing down on the loose ball. Wisheart hit the crossbar with a shot out of a scramble in front of the Cincy goal with 15:17 left in the second half.
The best chance either team had once regulation ended was a loose ball after a save by Schraeder that the Poland defense had to clear out of harm’s way with 1:45 left in the second overtime.
Each team was successful in the first two rounds of penalty kicks, Wisheart and junior midfielder Leah Basel converting for Poland while Rutan and Kyla Sustad scored for Cincinnatus. Steacy then smothered a line-drive shot by Tornadoes senior defender Tayler Clark before Red Lions senior defender Miranda Wolf scored to give the Red Lions a 3-2 lead. Bates sailed a shot over the crossbar in the fourth round; senior midfielder Montana Wolf, Miranda’s twin sister, sent a hard shot home to win Friday’s regional berth for Cincy.
“I was second-guessing myself – ‘I’m going to miss’ – but we have PKs the last 15 minutes of every practice,” Montana Wolf said. “ I knew I had to go to my corner, the lower right; Kara knows it but their goalie didn’t. So I put it there and I think I turned around and sprinted before it went in the net.”
“Six championships in seven years, I’ll take it,” Poland coach Tom Basel said. “Unfortunately our season didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but considering the games we’ve had with Cincinnatus over the years part of me is happy for their team, school and community to know what it means to win a sectional championship.
“The same girls took PKs for us in the same order during the summer, when we beat Holland Patent (the current Class B sectional co-champion) for the title in our summer league.”
Poland has played all season without two key players, senior forward/midfielder Keara Blumenstock – last season’s Section 3 Class D Player of the Year – and junior center midfielder Jordyn Squire. “I was proud of the girls who stepped in,” coach Basel said. “They did what had to be done.”
Team MVPs for the game were Rutan for Cincy and Basel for Poland, while Sportsmanship Awards went to Red Lions senior defender Gabby Gallow and Tornadoes junior forward Carliza Roark.
Rutan was named this year’s Section 3 Class D Player of the Year, joined on the sectional Class D all-star squad by teammate Kyla Sustad. Also making the team were Wisheart and Leah Basel from Poland, McGraw sophomore midfielder Bayley Meade, LaFargeville senior goalie Emma Timmerman and junior forward Kamryn Barnes, Madison senior goalie Kayla Usborne, Copenhagen sophomore forward Brooke Smylka, Manlius-Pebble Hill junior defender Ana Videto, Remsen sophomore defender Madelyn McCormack, Belleville-Henderson senior forward Hannah Sugden and Fabius-Pompey sophomore defender Lily Gorman.
“I didn’t know what it was,” Rutan said of being named Player of the Year. “It’s a great honor; I kept pushing myself to get better and help keep the team together. It feels amazing to win the sectional title; it’s what I’ve worked for since eighth grade.”