NORWICH – It’s been a remarkable run of success, not only for the Oneonta High girls soccer team, but for senior Mariah Ruff as well.
The Yellowjackets had their way with Seton Catholic Central on Friday night at Norwich High, beating the Saints for the third straight year in the Section Four Class B girls soccer final, the latest by a 2-0 count that doesn’t fully describe the level of dominance with which the Yellowjackets played.
For Ruff, it marked her sixth sectional title in a Yellowjackets uniform – three apiece in soccer and basketball. Since she transferred from Andes to OHS as a freshman, Ruff’s played in seven sectional finals, the lone loss a 2-0 setback to Chenango Forks in the 2010 Class B soccer final – the Yellowjackets’ last loss in sectional play.
“It’s incredible,” said Ruff, who assisted goals by Abby Picinich and Taylor Hitchcock early in the first and second halves, respectively. “It’s an honor to play for Oneonta High School. Sports are everything here. The teachers support us, the entire school and community support us. The players know how to work and they’re unselfish. I love it here.”
And leave it to a Division I basketball signee to affect a game with her hands. Ruff’s powerful throw-ins led to both goals.
“It’s one of those things that until you see (Ruff’s throws), you really can’t believe it,” OHS coach Jerry Mackey said of Ruff, who’ll play basketball for St. Bonaventure next winter. “It’s not a pop fly, it’s not a ‘I hope it gets to the box,’ it’s a lined I’m choosing who I’m throwing it to. … Against us, from 20 yards and in, that’s what we’re playing for.”
Oneonta’s next game will be Tuesday at a Section Four site against the the Section One champion – Bronxville or Albertus Magnus – in a Class B first-round game. OHS and Bronxville have met in state quarterfinals the past two years, with Bronxville winning, 1-0, in 2011, and Oneonta advancing in a penalty-kick shootout last year after the teams played to a 1-all tie.
Against SCC on Friday, the Yellowjackets (16-2-1) established early on that this game would be nothing like the 1-1 tie in the teams’ regular-season meeting Sept. 24 at Wright National Soccer Campus.
OHS easily could have scored two or three goals in the first half. It wound up with one, that coming 5 minutes, 19 seconds into play.
Ruff took a throw-in near the end line on the right side. It went deep in the box and Saints goalie Jessica Walter appear to have it lined up. She reached up, but the ball deflected off of her hands and toward the far post. Picinich was there to line it inside the near post.
“I wanted to make sure my hips were in the right position, so I could drive it through,” Picinich said. “Taylor (Hitchcock) was in perfect position, too, and they had to put someone on her, so that left me wide open. It was a great throw from Mar, though. She’s insane.”
Three other great opportunities weren’t converted by OHS in the opening 40 minutes, the best coming when Ruff set up for a free kick near the right sideline, about 8 yards from the end line with 101/2 minutes left. Ruff lofted a shot that deflected off the left post, then across the goalmouth before hitting off the right post. Walter then smothered the loose ball about 6 inches in front the line.
Brieanna Baker and Mallory Herrick also had good looks, with Baker missing just wide of the right post 10 ½ minutes into play and Herrick’s shot going just wide of the left post about seven minutes later.
“It probably could have been 2, 3, or 4 to nothing,” said Mackey, whose team beat the Saints, 3-0, in the 2011 Class B final and 4-0 in overtime last season.
Instead, it was nearly 1-1 at halftime. The Saints attempted two shots all night, but one of them nearly resulted in a goal.
With four minutes left in the half, the Saints’ Michaela Farrell sped past Kendall Gillette and Baker along the left sideline. She dribbled for about 40 yards before sending a short pass to Genna Michitti, who was 1-on-1 with OHS goalie Maddie Grau in the left-middle of the field. But Michitti’s shot missed by about 3 yards to the far post.
Oneonta wasted little time doubling its lead in the second half.
One minute, 22 seconds into the second half, Ruff again had a throw-in from right side near the end line. This one found the head of Hitchcock, who scored inside the near post from about 5 yards to make it 2-0.
Hitchcock had numerous close calls in Oneonta’s 2-0 sectional quarterfinal victory over Waverly and its 3-0 win over Susquehanna Valley in the sectional semifinal.
“Of course, it’s frustrating when I hit the post a couple of times, but I’m just glad we were able to advance as a team and I’m happy I was able to put one in,” Hitchcock said.
Ruff said the Yellowjackets have added some options on her throws, some of which travel 30-35 yards.
“We’ve been talking about my throw-ins a little bit and we don’t want one set play for them,” said Ruff, adding that she could barely sit still in school Friday because she was looking forward to playing the Saints again. “We don’t have one set play anymore and I think they’re a little better now.”
After Hitchcock’s goal, the ball rarely left Seton’s side of the field as Oneonta pressured throughout the second half. The Yellowjackets’ runs didn’t lead to many scoring chances, but the Saints couldn’t generate any offense with the ball on their side of the field.
“Last game, I thought they might have had the ball more in our end,” Picinich said. “The ball was more evenly distributed (in the regular-season game). I definitely thought we had possession most of the time tonight.”
Now, it’s off to the state playoffs again for OHS, which advanced to the Class B state final last season, falling, 3-1, in overtime to Greece Odyssey. This year’s trip might have seemed unlikely after OHS graduated nine seniors off of last season’s team, including all-state players Cami Cleaveland (now playing for Hartwick College) and Dani Nicosia (Herkimer County Community College).
“As long as we play our game, with all the new people to help us, we can return to the state finals,” Hitchcock said. “As long as we play our game, we’ll go that far again.”
Added Ruff: “Obviously, the girls who have been there are going to tell the ones who haven’t what to expect. I think we’ll be fine. We’ll play as hard as we can and that’s all you can expect.”
Oneonta 2, Seton CC 0
SECTION FOUR CLASS B
Championship at Norwich High
Oneonta1 1 – 2
Seton0 0 – 0
2-Oneonta (16-2-1): Abby Picinich 1-0, Taylor Hitchcock 1-0, Mariah Ruff 0-2.
1-Seton Catholic Central (13-3-1): None.
Shots-corner kicks: O 7-3; S 2-3.
Goalies: Maddie Grau (O) 1; Jessica Walter (S) 5.
Rob Centorani can be reached at email@example.com or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.