By Rob Centorani Staff Writer
The Daily Star
---- — ONEONTA — If Oneonta High wanted to make excuses Wednesday night, it had a lot of them.
Two of the Yellowjackets’ top players were on the bench with injuries, they were coming off of lopsided losses to two Section Three Class AA powers over the weekend and they were playing a state-ranked Class A squad in a Southern Tier Athletic Conference girls soccer semifinal.
Turns out, OHS — a Class B state finalist in 2012 — didn’t need any excuses.
Taylor Hitchcock headed in a throw-in from Mariah Ruff with 6 minutes, 24 seconds left in the first overtime to lift the Yellowjackets to a dramatic 3-2 victory over Vestal at Lloyd Baker Field.
STAC East Division champion OHS (12-2-1) now has the opportunity to win a third straight STAC title Friday. That’s when they travel to West Division winner Elmira, which defeated Seton Catholic Central, 2-1, in Wednesday’s other semifinal. The time for Friday’s game has not been set.
“I think all the girls had doubts because of last weekend,” Ruff said of a 2-0 loss to Cicero-North Syracuse on Saturday and a 3-0 setback to Liverpool on Sunday. “Last weekend was tough. We lost two girls (Brieanna Baker to a shoulder injury and Madison Miller to a right-ankle injury) and we didn’t play very well. We were just wondering where we were, but obviously, we’re right back where we were last year.”
Ruff, who shared Daily Star Player of the Year honors in 2012 with Miller, set up two goals with her long throw-ins. She also hit the crossbar on a throw-in in the second half.
“We’ve said it before, a throw-in is a corner for us,” OHS coach Jerry Mackey said. “She knows it’s such a weapon to have. It’s a big trump card for us.”
Ruff’s powerful arms proved decisive in the first overtime. She set up for a throw-in about 10 yards from the end line on the right side. She sent a line drive that probably never rose more than 12 feet from the ground. Hitchcock was stationed about 7 yards out on the near post, and headed the ball inside the right post.
“Taylor had a great header,” said Ruff, who also set up Nicole Harmer’s second-half goal with a throw from the left side. “It was all Taylor. It had nothing to do with me. I just kind of threw it in the box. Wherever it went, it went. Taylor got a head on it and it went in.”
Mackey rightly disagreed with Ruff’s assessment of her throw to Hitchcock.
“It’s not like you’re waiting for a flyball,” Mackey said of Ruff, who’ll play Division I basketball for St. Bonaventure next winter. “She’s not just chucking it to show how far she can chuck it, she’s throwing it to a spot usually. That’s an unusual skill set and it’s a tremendous weapon.”
Vestal (10-4), which has lost in the STAC playoffs to the Yellowjackets three straight years — including 1-0 and 2-0 losses in the last two STAC finals — couldn’t muster much offensively over the final 13-plus minutes of overtime.
At the outset Wednesday, it looked as if the Golden Bears might run over the Jackets.
Vestal (10-4) controlled the first 15-20 minutes.
The Golden Bears scored 9:51 into play. It started with a corner kick from the right side. The Yellowjackets had multiple opportunities to clear it but couldn’t get it out. The ball eventually made its way to Victoria Antonakos on the left side of the box. Antonakos drove a low shot from 15 yards inside the near post to make it 1-0.
“We look so good and say that’s what we want to do and then all of a sudden … blah,” Vestal coach Bill Stepanovsky said of his team’s strong start that was followed by so-so play for the last 20 minutes of the opening half and first 20 minutes of the second half.
Oneonta tied it 7:15 before halftime on what could best be described as a soft goal.
Taryn More controlled a ball on the right hash mark, 33 yards out. She sent a hard, low skipper toward the left post. Vestal goalie Aubrey Petcosky arrived in plenty of time to make the save, but the ball powered through her hands and into the goal.
“If that’s somebody else, you probably don’t even take a crack at it,” said Mackey, explaining that More’s leg strength made it possible for the shot to get past Petcosky.
Another shot that Petcosky got both hands on resulted in the Yellowjackets’ second goal.
Ruff set up for a throw-in from the left side. It almost sounded like she was playing basketball when the throw left her hands. It appeared to slip out of her hands as she released it and Ruff yelled, “short” as soon as she let it go. It looked harmless enough until it caromed out to Harmer near the left corner of the box. Harmer did not make clean contact, but the ball popped high into the air and toward the far post.
Petcosky backpedaled a few steps and reached up. The ball glanced off of her hands and into the goal as OHS took a 2-1 lead with 34:51 left in the second half.
OHS generated a few more chances over the next 10 minutes. Two minutes after Harmer’s goal, More sent a wicked corner kick that Petcosky bobbled and then secured near the goal line. Ruff then blasted a 50-yard free kick that skipped past the left post with 29:45 left, Harmer had a shot go wide of the left post with 27:45 to go, and Ruff had a throw-in that caromed off the crossbar with 26 1/2 minutes to go.
Things shifted back to Vestal’s favor thereafter. It took four corner kicks in a four-minute span before Antonakos scored her second goal, with 8:24 to go.
The speedy forward penetrated along the end line in the left corner, beating two OHS defenders along the baseline. She then dribbled back upfield to give herself an angle before driving a waist-high, 20-yard shot that settled into the side netting to tie it at 2.
“It could have taken the wind out of our sails at 2-2, but we talked,” Mackey said. “I told them if I said to you as soon as BB and Madison went out on Sunday, I’ll give you 20 minutes to go to the STAC final, would you sign up for it? Of course you would.”
Mackey said he’s proud of the way his squad responded without Baker and Miller, both of whom will be out for Friday’s STAC final and could miss the beginning of sectionals.
“That’s a great accomplishment and something they should be proud of,” Mackey said of having a chance to win a third straight STAC title. “With Madison and BB out, we had three girls on the field who played last year against Vestal and Elmira.”
Last season, OHS beat Elmira, 2-1, in overtime in a STAC semifinal.
“Everyone stepped up,” Ruff said. “Mallory (Herrick) had a great game, Kendall (Gillette) had a great game, Abby (Picinich) had a great game. Everyone was unbelievable. (Goalie) Maddie (Grau) played well. Everybody stepped up for everybody.”
Oneonta 3, Vestal 2
at Lloyd Baker Field
Vestal 1 1 0 0 – 2
Oneonta 1 1 1 0 – 3
Vestal (10-4): Victoria Antonakos 2-0.
Oneonta (12-2-1): Taryn More 1-0, Nicole Harmer 1-0, Taylor Hitchcock 1-0, Mariah Ruff 0-2.
Shots-corner kicks: V 9-7; O 11-1.
Goalies: Aubrey Petcosky (V) 4; Maddie Grau (O) 8.
Rob Centorani can be reached at email@example.com or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.