By Rob Centorani
The Daily Star
---- — FULTON — From Franklin’s standpoint, the level of dominance Poland displayed Saturday brought with it one positive: Haley Downin got a chance to showcase her many talents on a soccer field.
The Purple Devils senior goalie dived, jumped, darted, anticipated and reacted, and did it all with a flair rarely seen at the Class D level.
In spite of Downin’s efforts, Franklin’s first state playoff game ended with a 4-1 loss in a Class D girls quarterfinal at Fulton High.
Tornadoes freshman Mikayla Blumenstock increased her goal total to 35, scoring three times, and teammate Paige Sullivan contributed one goal.
Those two were the most talented of Poland’s players, but the Tornadoes had many others who played a role in this convincing victory. Not only was this Poland squad fast and aggressive, but it was skilled.
On Fulton High’s artificial turf — a surface that sometimes can make good teams look average — Poland passed with accuracy, controlled hard bounces with ease and dribbled with precision.
At times, it seemed the Tornadoes moved faster with the ball than Franklin’s defenders moved without it.
“They’re very good at receiving, taking the ball back, and if we pressured them, good enough to lay the ball back to someone behind and play it on,” 28th-year Franklin coach J.J. Laing coach said of Poland. “They’re a very solid squad. As I told the girls after the game, sometimes you’re the windshield and sometimes you’re the bug.”
Still, it was Franklin (15-3-1) that scored first.
Junior Jordan Beers set it up with some nifty footwork on the left side of the field. Beers shifted gears several times — going from medium speed to fast — to beat a defender along the end line. Beers then sent a low cross into the middle of the box. Jessie Downin, Haley’s cousin, ran onto the ball and volleyed it into the left side of the goal from 8 yards.
Downin’s 15th goal of the season gave Franklin a 1-0 lead 3 minutes, 43 seconds into play.
Poland tied it five minutes later, capitalizing on Haley Downin’s lone mistake.
Sullivan was fouled 20 yards out on the left side, setting up a free kick. Sullivan took the kick and sent what seemed like a harmless liner at Downin. But the ball powered through Downin’s hands and into the goal to tie the score.
“With Paige, I expected (Downin) would make that save. But if we didn’t get that one, there were other opportunities,” said Poland coach Tom Basel, whose team will play Section Five’s Jasper-Troupsburg at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in a state semifinal at Homer High. “I would say from that point on, it was maybe an 80-20 possession game for us. When you possess the ball that much, you’re going to be successful.”
In patches, Poland looked like the Showtime Los Angeles Lakers of the 1980s, attacking Franklin’s goal with frequent odd-man rushes or breakaways.
Though the statistics credited Haley Downin with eight saves, she thwarted at least that many opportunities by rushing off her line and getting to balls just before Poland’s forwards.
Downin made a diving save near the left post to snare a liner off of Blumenstock’s foot with 29:10 left and made another diving save to stop Blumenstock two minutes later. She then stopped Blumenstock from point-blank range, correctly guessing she’d go far post. When the ball deflected off of Downin, she stopped two more attempts from close range by Tara Seigle from the opposite side of the goal — those coming with 16 ½ minutes left.
“She’s the best keeper we’ve faced all season,” Basel said of Downin, who’ll play for Division I Binghamton University next season. “She’s an outstanding goalie, so we had to be crafty to beat her.”
Blumenstock showed some cunning in giving Poland a 2-1 lead 13:43 before halftime. She split a pair of Franklin defenders in the middle and when Downin came out to challenge, Blumenstock dribbled left around the diving goalie and scored into an open net.
“The forward (Blumenstock) to us was a lot like Kori Hamm,” Laing said of the Edmeston graduate who led the Tri-Valley League-rival Panthers to a share of the 2008 Class D state championship and went on to play for Oneonta State. “Where we’re from, we all remember Kori Hamm.”
After Blumenstock banged one off the left post eight minutes before halftime, Franklin had two good chances before the break.
Jessie Downin was stopped by Poland goalie Courtney Green on a semi-breakaway with 6:50 left before halftime and Beers forced Green to make a leaping save on a shot to the far post with 5:10 remaining in the half.
Over the opening 30 minutes of the second half, it appeared as if Blumenstock and Downin were engaged in a game of 1-on-1.
Blumenstock scored twice during that stretch and was denied by Downin on four other occasions.
“She dribbled the one around her and got by her, but there were a couple of other times Haley stopped her,” Laing said. “(Blumenstock) made an adjustment when they played the ball through and Haley came out and got those. Then they kind of laid off of those. Then you saw her come out and try to challenge us 1-on-1 because the throughballs were not there. It was kind of a 1-on-1 dual.”
Blumenstock made it 3-1 with 34:41 left. Free on a breakaway on the right side, Blumenstock faked going right and got Downin to commit. She then moved inside the goalie and scored into an open net.
Her final goal came with 17:27 to play, after Alyssa Lepper passed into the box. Downin came out, but Blumenstock got there first before tapping it inside the right post.
Laing said the Tornadoes’ pressure was so intense that he opted to go against a strategy he normally employs when his team is trailing.
“When we get down by two at the 20-minute mark, I’ll take (Downin) out and put her in as a field player. But even my wife, who was helping me out today, said you can’t take her out because she’s only thing from keeping this from getting really out of control,” he said. “Had I felt we could have controlled it a little more, I would have made that switch because Haley is almost as good a field player as she is a goalie. I could not do that because they put so much pressure on us.”
Beers had two more quality shots, including one that hit the crossbar, over the final 10 minutes. She’ll be back next season, along with eight other Franklin starters.
“A lot of this season was about learning for us,” Laing said of a squad that won Franklin’s first sectional title of any kind in girls sports. “I’ll tell you what, we’ll be back. We’ll be strong next year. I’m real proud of how they played this year. I have no complaints.”
Poland 4, Franklin 1
CLASS D STATE QUARTERFINAL
Saturday at Fulton High
Number before team indicates section
Franklin 1 0 — 1
Poland 2 2 — 4
4-Franklin (15-3-1): Jessie Downin 1-0, Jordan Beers 0-1.
3-Poland (19-1): Paige Sullivan 1-0, Mikayla Blumenstock 3-0, Alyssa Lepper 0-1, Tara Seigle 0-1.
Shots-corner kicks: F 6-4; P 14-5.
Goalies: Haley Downin (F) 8; Courtney Green (P) 4.
Rob Centorani can be reached at email@example.com or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.