ONEONTA – Brieanna Baker’s been through a busy last couple of weeks.
She injured her right shoulder three weekends ago, took a trip to Florida over this past weekend to play softball and probably dealt with some flack from her mother Tuesday night.
Still, junior Baker’s return to the Oneonta High girls soccer team was an unquestioned success Tuesday. She assisted the Yellowjackets’ first two goals in helping OHS advance to its fourth straight Section Four Class B final with a dominating 3-0 win over Susquehanna Valley.
On a cool afternoon at Lloyd Baker Field, Baker’s speed allowed her to turn the corner along the right wing, setting up goals by Mallory Herrick and Abby Picinich in the first 15-plus minutes.
“I was nervous coming back, for sure,” said Baker, who hadn’t played soccer for OHS since injuring her shoulder in a 2-0 loss to Cicero-North Syracuse on Oct. 12. “I’ve been to two practices the past two weeks. I was nervous to see how I was going to do, but I ended up doing well.”
The rest of the second-seeded Yellowjackets also performed well. OHS (15-2-1) held a 21-2 advantage in shots, and hit numerous posts and crossbars en route to a convincing victory over the third-seeded Sabers (13-3).
Next for OHS is a rematch against the lone team in Section Four to put a blemish on the Yellowjackets’ record. Top-seeded Seton Catholic Central (13-2-1) defeated No. 4 Chenango Forks, 6-0, Tuesday to advance to its third straight sectional final.
Oneonta beat the Saints the past two years to win sectional championships, winning, 3-0, in the 2011 final and following that with a 4-0 overtime victory in last year’s final.
But when the team’s met Sept. 24, the Saints played OHS to a 1-all tie at the Wright National Soccer Campus. Friday’s final likely will be played at Norwich. Yellowjackets coach Jerry Mackey said he wasn’t certain if the final would be played at 4:30 or 7 p.m.
“I’m hoping we can win this time,” said Herrick, who opened the scoring 7 ½ minutes into play. “We have it. We’ve worked a lot harder and become more of a team. I think we’ve got them this time.”
From the outset Tuesday, OHS was clearly the superior team.
Two minutes into play, Taylor Hitchcock sent a shot off the crossbar. A couple of minutes later, Hitchcock sent another shot just over the crossbar.
Then Baker went to work on the game’s first goal. She blew by a defender, turned the corner near the end line and then brought it back up the field.
What Baker did next, she said, is something for which her mother might give her some grief. Baker sent a perfect pass to Herrick in the middle of the box and Herrick finished inside the left post to make it 1-0 with 33:22 left in the first half.
“My mom yells at me, but I like to pass it off,” said Baker, who played in the Rising Stars All-American game for softball in Plantation, Fla., on Friday. “I use my speed to get the end line and there’s always someone in the box and I just lay it off, and they usually finish it.”
Added Herrick: “I was surprised, but I wanted to be in position just in case, because she could have switched it or gone far post and that would have beautiful goal. I was just there as a backup in case it hit off the goalie or something, but she just passed it right to my feet and I was like, ‘I hope this goes in.’”
With 24:56 left in the opening half, Baker again freed herself along the right side. She took the ball toward the middle before lofting a shot that hit off the crossbar. The carom off the bar came right to Picinich, who headed it inside the right post to make it 2-0.
“It’s great to have BB back,” Herrick said. “It was a long few weeks without her. We weren’t really struggling, but we really needed her speed on the right side. It’s great to have her back.”
Oneonta’s pressure was relentless.
Picinich banged one off the crossbar with 22 minutes left in the half, Hitchcock headed a Mariah Ruff throw-in just over the crossbar four minutes later and Hitchcock missed just wide of the right post after a Ruff corner kick with 11 minutes left in the half.
At halftime, OHS had a 13-0 advantage in shots.
“I think the reason (the Sabers have) given teams trouble is because of their midfield and obviously, our midfield is a dynamic part of what we do,” Mackey said. “Obviously, having BB back, that kind of tilted the field.”
When Ruff headed in a Taryn More corner kick 2 ½ minutes into the second half, OHS extended its lead to 3-0.
The Yellowjackets also earned a penalty kick with about 28 minutes left after Picinich was tripped in the box by an SV defender, but Meg Burns bounced the shot off the right post.
Perhaps the statistic that underscores OHS’ dominance was that Yellowjackets goal Maddie Grau didn’t so much as touch the ball until making a routine save on a deep shot by Rosemary Zelenyak with 11:40 left in the second half.
“They were in a defensive mode,” said Mackey, whose team advanced to the Class B state final last season, falling, 3-1, in overtime to Greece Odyssey. “From a coaching standpoint, it’s nice we didn’t have a lot high-stress moments.”
That’s likely to change Friday.
Though the Saints were outshot, 11-7, and OHS had a 9-0 advantage in corner kicks in the teams’ earlier meeting, much of that game was evenly played.
“Yes we are,” Baker said when asked if OHS is looking forward to playing SCC again. “We’ve been waiting for them. We need to keep our composure, play our game and not let down.”
Oneonta 3, Susquehannna Valley 0
SECTION FOUR CLASS B
Semifinal at Lloyd Baker Field
Susquehanna Valley0 0 – 0
Oneonta2 1 – 3
3-Susquehanna Valley (13-3): None.
2-Oneonta (15-2-1): Mallory Herrick 1-0, Brieanna Baker 0-2, Abby Picinich 1-0, Mariah Ruff 1-0, Taryn More 0-1.
Shots-corner kicks: S 2-1; O 21-8.
Goalies: Paige Finch (S) 7; Maddie Grau (O) 2.
Rob Centorani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.