By Dean Russin Sports Editor
The Daily Star
---- — MIDDLETOWN — A single teardrop remained atop the rosy left cheek of Taylor Hitchcock as she looked up from the bench, where she had spent the final 24 minutes and change of Saturday’s Class B girls soccer state quarterfinal at Middletown High.
“I think it was a corner,” Oneonta High sophomore midfielder Hitchcock said as she sat with her left leg riding along the wooden bench to elevate her injured ankle. “I went up for a header and I just landed on my ankle wrong. It’s swollen pretty good. But hopefully, I’ll be back for Saturday.”
Dr. David Picinich, an Oneonta chiropractor who doubles as the father of teammate Abby Picinich, then shook his head.
“It’s sprained,” he said. “It won’t be healed by next week.”
“We’ll see about that,” Hitchcock responded.
At least the Yellowjackets have another week to find out.
Hitchcock and junior forward Taryn More scored unassisted goals in the second half of Oneonta’s 2-0 victory over Section Nine’s Spackenkill as the Yellowjackets earned a spot in the state semifinals for the second straight season.
“Now we’re alive on the last weekend of the season,” said OHS coach Jerry Mackey, whose girls will play Section Five’s Hornell (19-3) at 5 p.m. this Saturday at Cortland High. The winner advances to the state final against Section Three’s Marcellus or Section 11’s Center Moriches at 4 p.m. Sunday in the Cortland area.
“If we’re alive on the last day, great, and if it’s good enough, OK,” he continued. “But if it’s not, it’s certainly not because these girls didn’t play hard.”
Three-time defending Section Four Class B champion Oneonta (18-2-1), which is seeking its first state title in girls soccer, played to near exhaustion on a sunny, crisp afternoon but had nothing to show for it after 40 minutes. Despite pinning the ball in Spackenkill’s end for the majority of the first half, the teams entered the break deadlocked at zero.
“I think we were all over them, but I think we were all over them from our 30(-yard line) to their 18,” Mackey said. “I said (at halftime), we needed to show some urgency to finish one. Realistically, it didn’t look like with our shape that they were probably going to get one. So the best we’re hoping for now is pks? That’s what we’re going to do, go to a coin flip?”
Hitchcock put that possibility to rest by scoring on Oneonta’s third shot of the second half. After Mariah Ruff’s cross from the right side went wide and More’s low liner was smothered by Spackenkill goalie Meghan Pantano in the opening minutes, Hitchcock ended up with the ball and an open lane up the middle. She carried the ball a short distance, cut backwards to shake a defender and slammed a 30-yard riser into the upper-right side of the Spartans’ goal for a 1-0 Oneonta lead 3:07 into the second half.
“We pushed better in the second half,” said Hitchcock, who was carried off the field after her leaping attempt to flick Nicole Harmer’s corner kick to the far post ended with a rolled ankle that absorbed the impact of her touch down on the turf field. “We decided to start shooting. I decided just to take one to get a shot on goal and it went in thankfully.”
Although Hitchcock was out for the remainder of the game, OHS still had plenty of offensive weapons at its disposal in midfielders Mariah Ruff, Madison Miller and Brieanna Baker, as well as forwards Picinich and More. The five were instrumental in keeping the Jackets on the attack and, on the rare occasions that Spackenkill threatened at the other end, Meg Burns, Kendall Gillette, Alicia Arcidiacono and Harmer were quick to send the ball in the opposite direction.
Goalie Maddie Grau benefited the most from Oneonta’s strong defensive effort. She made two saves, both in the second half, in the Jackets’ sixth straight shutout and 13th of the season.
“I played more defensively today,” said Spackenkill coach Michael Corbett, whose program has won the last three Section Nine titles. “I usually have two people up top. Today, I went with one because I wanted to be able to stay in that game. You get down a goal in a game like this, it’s tough coming back. So I wanted to keep it close. The first half it went our way, and then that was the end of it.”
More all but secured Oneonta’s state-semifinal berth with 14:35 left. More carried the ball a few feet from the left line of the 18-yard box and was tripped from behind as she attempted to break into the penalty area. The head referee indicated the foul occurred before More crashed inside the box, giving her a free kick from about 16 yards out on the left side.
“Obviously a restart from there, we’re looking to put that one on the frame,” Mackey said. “We talked before because sometimes she’ll airmail one. I said if (Pantano) saves it, great, but let’s get it on the frame.”
More put everything she had into her kick to the far post, lining a high shot into a crawl space between Pantano’s left hand and the crossbar for a 2-0 lead. After the ball went in, More stood still but turned her head in Mackey’s direction and slyly smiled.
“I was looking to Mackey,” said More, who got hit with a yellow card early in the second half for being a little too close while jabbing her head at a Spackenkill throw-in attempt. “He said you gotta either go for it and go for a goal or put it on someone’s head. I credit him for that. Mackey had me practicing with Maddie for her sake so she could save those, but it ended up helping me out, too.”
More said although OHS may have lost a key player in Hitchcock for the final weekend of play, the Jackets should be just fine come Saturday.
“The way our season has gone, it almost doesn’t matter anymore what player goes down,” said More, whose team won the Southern Tier Athletic Conference championship this season with Miller and Baker sidelined by injuries. “We’ve found out that our bench players don’t mind coming out and stepping up and playing. It doesn’t seem to faze us now because this has already happened a couple times this season.
“I think we have some great people off the bench who will be able to step up,” she continued. “Obviously, it’s upsetting having a chance that (Hitchcock) might not be here, but it could motivate us more.”
Oneonta 2, Spackenkill 0
CLASS B STATE TOURNAMENT
Quarterfinal at Middletown High
4-Oneonta 0 2 - 2
9-Spackenkill 0 0 - 0
4-Oneonta (18-2-1): Taylor Hitchcock 1-0, Taryn More 1-0.
9-Spackenkill (17-2-1): None.
Shots-corner kicks: O 8-7; S 2-2.
Goalies: Maddie Grau (O) 1; Meghan Pantano (S) 3.
Dean Russin can be reached at email@example.com or 607-432-1000, ext. 215.