By Dean Russin
The Daily Star
---- — ONEONTA — If only crossbars and posts counted, right?
Even then, Oneonta High would have had a tough time Saturday against top-seeded Susquehanna Valley, which scored the first three goals of its 5-2 boys soccer victory in the Section Four Class B championship game at the Wright National Soccer Campus.
“Was that three or four? Four I think,” OHS coach Alex Brannan said. “We hit the post four times.”
The second-seeded Yellowjackets (13-3) certainly could have used one or two bounces the other way after falling into a 3-0 hole in the first half.
“It was huge to get out there early,” said Sabers coach Ted Hudock, who was on the wrong end of a 3-2 overtime loss to OHS in the 2011 final at the WNSC. “Being able to get out there, take the early lead, take the advantage and get the momentum on your side is huge – especially in conditions like this.”
Already battered by a Class D sectional girls final that went four extra periods and a penalty-kick round, At-A-Glance Field got even softer and slicker as a weather buffet swept through the area. Dark skies and light rain turned to a downpour and back again, flurries floated from time to time, and the sun even made a couple of brief, blinding appearances.
The one constant, as is usually the case at the WNSC, was a stiff wind that dropped the temperature into the ski-mask and snowsuit range. And unfortunately for Southern Tier Athletic Conference champion Oneonta, the Yellowjackets played into the wicked jetstream for the first 40 minutes.
“I was trying to settle them down because we were going against the wind,” said Brannan, the mastermind behind Oneonta’s STAC championship last month – its first since 1985. “The key was, whoever gets the wind (at their back) is going to dominate that first half.
“So we were trying to get out of the half and we couldn’t,” he continued. “We gave up two free kicks that we didn’t want to give up, so we were down, 3-0.”
Ryan Caroway opened the scoring with 16 minutes, 22 seconds to play in the first half, settling Joe Stento’s pass to the middle of the 18-yard line for a left-footed liner into the top-right of the OHS goal.
Fifth-year varsity standout Mike Rood, a senior who will play for Division I Hartwick College next season, extended Susquehanna Valley’s lead less than six minutes later. After drawing a foul about 25 yards out, Rood sent a free kick that cleared a wall of Oneonta defenders inside the left post for a 2-0 lead.
Rood made it 3-0 on a carbon-copy play with 4:36 left before halftime, drawing a foul from about 30 yards away before serving a free kick into the top-right of the Jackets’ net.
“I’ve been practicing my free kicks all week,” Rood said. “I was fortunate to get two free-kick goals and finish my chances.
“I just had to calm myself down,” continued Rood, visibly upset by the tackles from behind that set up both free kicks. “I was getting heated, so I needed to calm myself down, take a couple seconds, take a deep breath and hit the ball hard … and on goal.”
Oneonta didn’t simply go away, though.
Now with the wind at their backs, the Yellowjackets pinned the ball in SV’s end for the first six minutes of the second half. Zach Joseph then bumped Caroway off the ball to create space along the right sideline, giving him just enough time to float a pass inside the 18-yard box. Stijn van Pel finished the play with a perfectly-timed header inside the near post, pulling OHS to 3-1 with 33:25 remaining.
“We believed we could come back again,” said Brannan, whose team followed back-to-back overtime victories in the STAC playoffs with a 2-1 overtime defeat of Dryden in a sectional semifinal. “When we scored the one, we were pushing to get the second one and we hit the post. Then they came back and made it 4-1.”
SV’s Ryan Taylor bounced a pass across the 18-yard line to the far corner of the box, where Justin Caroway struck a left-footer inside the left post to restore the Sabers’ three-goal cushion.
Thirty-two seconds later, Rood pounced on a throughball on the right side for a one-on-one with OHS goalie Zach King (six saves), whose only play was a dead sprint to challenge the ballcarrier. King committed with a dive forward but missed as Rood cut to his left and tapped the ball into an open net for a 5-1 lead.
“Mike Rood’s a good player,” Brannan said. “He’s a dominant player and he should be – he’s been playing (varsity soccer) since eighth grade. Six years I’ve seen him and this is the first time he’s beaten me in the final.
“Sometimes it goes your way,” Brannan continued. “We’ve had three games in a row go our way. This one just wasn’t going our way today.”
Joseph set up the final goal with more fancy footwork, lifting a cross from the left side of a crowded box to an oncoming van Pel. He beat SV goalie Colin Manchester (seven saves) with another header inside the right post with 9:31 left.
“We had chances, even going into the wind, but we were a step slow today,” Brannan said. “When it turned around, we were getting to everything a lot better. … But we hit the post; Stijn gets in on one and shoots wide – and normally, he doesn’t shoot wide; then we hit the crossbar and then Zach (Joseph) hits the post and Brownie (Connor Brown) hits the other post. I’m like, ‘Oh man! Can you move the net over one way for me?’ “
Brown, van Pel and King are among nine OHS players set to graduate this June. Brannan didn’t seem too worried about next season, though.
“This team is really overachievers. Nobody expected us to do anything,” he said. “(SV) only lost one player from last year’s team; we lost six. At the end of the game, I had five JV players in who were competing well against them. I was pretty happy.
“When it went 5-1, I didn’t give up,” he continued. “I thought we could still score goals, but I started looking at players who could play positions for next year and started moving them around. A lot of the guys who were out at the end are going to be here next year. That’s what happens when you have a good program. You get here every year.”
Dean Russin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-432-1000, ext. 215.