By Rob Centorani Staff Writer
The Daily Star
---- — CORTLAND — Oneonta High's girls were shaken by nothing.
Not the nine seniors who graduated off of last season's team that fell in the state final, not a rash of late-season injuries and not the one-goal deficits they faced the past two nights in Cortland.
They just played and now they're state champions.
"I'm just carrying on (former OHS coach Helen Sandford's) legacy," Yellowjackets coach Jerry Mackey said following his team's 2-1 soccer victory over Section Three's Marcellus in the Class B state final Sunday at Cortland State. "Now right, wrong or indifferent, the article can't be written that it's never happened. It's happened now."
The Yellowjackets (20-2-1) became the fifth team in OHS history to win a New York State Public High School Athletic Association title, joining the squads that earned back-to-back girls basketball titles in 1997 and 1998, the boys soccer title in 1999 and the baseball championship in 2012.
Perhaps the only downer on a night that brought stiff winds and light rain was the manner in which OHS scored the go-ahead goal. It came with about a minute left (the stadium clocks turned off for the final two minutes of each half).
Taryn More sent a short pass to Madison Miller about 30 yards from the goal. Miller turned and took a low, right-footed shot, and she didn't make clean contact. The ball bounced on the artificial turf and Marcellus goalie Emily Buschbascher had it lined up. It should have been a garden-variety save. The ball wasn't moving quickly and Buschbascher was in perfect position.
But like a middle infielder in baseball who anticipates a hop that doesn't come, Buschbascher came up on a ball that stayed down. The ball made slight contact with her hands before trickling over the line.
"My heart hurts right now for these 12 seniors," said Marcellus coach Laurie Updike, whose team finished its season at 20-2-1. "It's an error and we accept that as a team. We each have each other's backs and pick each other up."
Shortly after the game ended, Mackey jogged down to the opposite end of the field to console Buschbascher.
"I just told her everybody should share in the accolades and everybody should share in the disappointment of a loss," Mackey said. "She certainly didn't do that on purpose. It's the wind and the rain and the turf. It is what it is. That's the cruel nature of soccer and the cruel nature of sports in general. They have a good program and a good community, and they'll pick her back up."
When it ended, OHS players mobbed one another. After the teams shook hands, the Yellowjackets did their best impression of Cal Ripken Jr. after he broke Lou Gehrig's record for consecutive games played in 1995, when he slapped hands with fans as he took a lap around Camden Yards. The players ran over to the raised stands and jumped up as they gave high-fives to the large contingent of OHS followers.
"It feels unbelievable," said Oneonta senior midfielder Mariah Ruff, who scored the tying goal early in the second half and was named the game's outstanding player. "I had no dreams this year of us doing this. The team shocked me, everybody shocked me, I think we shocked ourselves and I think we shocked everybody. No words can describe it."
It was shocking in the sense that OHS graduated six starters off of last season's team that lost, 3-1 in overtime, to Greece Odyssey in the state final, including goalie Emmalee Sloman and defenders, Amy Hait, Shelby Cleaveland and Jennifer Jelic. The Yellowjackets also lost all-state players Cami Cleaveland and Dani Nicosia to graduation.
"I would say this year we played more as a team than any year I've been on varsity," said junior Taryn More, whose corner kick helped set up Ruff's tying goal. "It was just an amazing accomplishment to get here and win. We finally fulfilled our quest for the season. It wasn't just to get here and play in the final game at states, it was to get here and win the last game at states. We were able to do it this year and it's amazing."
Along the way, Miller and Brieanna Baker missed games with right ankle and right shoulder injuries, respectively, that forced them to miss the Southern Tier Athletic Conference playoffs and the beginning of sectionals, and Taylor Hitchcock suffered a severe left ankle injury in OHS' 2-0 state quarterfinal victory over Spackenkill last weekend. Still, a slightly hobbled Hitchcock gave OHS valuable minutes in both games this weekend.
The last two days against Section Five's Hornell and Marcellus, the Yellowjackets trailed, 1-0, at halftime before rallying for 2-1 victories.
"We've grown up together," said Miller, who also had the winning goal against Hornell on Saturday. "It helped last year getting the experience. It made us more relaxed this year. It's amazing. I'm so proud of my teammates."
The wind played a factor Sunday. It blew significantly toward the side in which fans purchased tickets. Marcellus had the wind in the first half and had the better of play early on.
The game's first goal was nearly as fluky as Miller's winner.
Jade Sargeant received pass near the right sideline and about 20 yards from the end line. She struck a low liner that had a lot of force behind it. OHS goalie Maddie Grau, as has been the norm throughout the postseason, was in good position to stop it, but the problem was playing the hop. The ball bounced about 3 yards in front of Grau and appeared to have some right-to-left English on it. It skipped off the slick turf, went past Grau and then inside the far post as Marcellus took a 1-0 lead 3 minutes, 39 seconds into play.
Things turned in the Yellowjackets' favor midway through the half. Over the last 20 minutes of the half, OHS generated several good chances, including free kicks by More and Ruff that sailed over the crossbar, and a throw-in by Ruff that Abby Picinich played back to her on the right wing. Ruff then took a shot to the far post, but Mustangs first-half goalie Maggie Fiacchi poked it away.
By half's end, Marcellus held a 6-5 edge in shots and both teams had two corner kicks.
With the wind at their backs in the second half, the Yellowjackets came out strong. They scored the equalizer with 33:22 left. More set up for a corner kick on the right side, and as she did Saturday in setting up both Oneonta goals with picture-perfect crosses, she sent a liner into the box, about 8 yards from the goal. Miller headed it and it hit the bottom of the crossbar. Somehow, Buschbascher swatted the ball with her right hand on the way down, but Ruff ran through the deflection, scoring at the far post to tie it.
"The last couple of years, we've been trying things like this and it hasn't worked, but this season it clicked," More said of Oneonta's success on re-starts this postseason. "Every time, it was Madison or Mariah getting a head or foot on the ball and it's been awesome to see."
Added Ruff: "I was just like, 'I'm running through the ball' and I was just ecstatic."
If Oneonta's goal was supposed to deflate the Mustangs, they didn't get the memo. Marcellus pressured repeatedly over the next 25 minutes, taking five corner kicks and keeping the ball in the Yellowjackets' end.
"I thought we were on the verge of breaking through and it just didn't happen," said Updike, whose team advanced to the state final with a 2-0 victory over Section 11's Center Moriches on Saturday.
Oneonta's defense, with first-year starters Meg Burns, Kendall Gillette, Alicia Arcidiacono and goalie Grau, contested all of Marcellus' runs. Grau also had clear sight lines on the shots the Mustangs took.
Marcellus had one good opportunity after Miller's goal. Brielle Filtch, who on this day showed why she was a First Team all-state selection last season and likely will return to that team this year, hit a 35-yard liner that Grau caught with probably 30 seconds left.
"Marcellus didn't have a weak link and neither did we," More said of the teams, which attempted nine shots apiece. "It didn't matter who you were marking, you just had to stay strong in your position."
In four previous trips to the state finals, OHS lost each time, including a 1-0 setback to Marcellus in 2003, when an own goal in double-overtime gave the Mustangs the victory. That was the last of Sandford's 30 years as coach, a tenure that included 15 sectional titles and 440 victories, the latter a state record at the time of her retirement.
"Helen got called about 10 seconds after I fell to my knees," Mackey said.
Oneonta 2, Marcellus 1
CLASS B STATE FINAL
Sunday at Cortland State
Number preceding team indicates section
Oneonta ..... 0 2 - 2
Marcellus ..... 1 0 - 1
4-Oneonta (20-2-1): Mariah Ruff 1-0, Madison Miller 1-1, Taryn More 0-1.
3-Marcellus (20-2-1): Jade Sargeant 1-0.
Shots-corner kicks: O 9-3; M 9-7.
Goalies: Maddie Grau (O) 4; Maggie Fiacchi (M) 2, Emily Buschbascher 2.
Outstanding goalie: Maggie Fiacchi (Marcellus).
Outstanding offensive player: Jade Sargeant (Marcellus).
Outstanding overall player: Mariah Ruff (Oneonta).
Rob Centorani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.