By Rob Centorani
The Daily Star
---- — DRYDEN — Two seniors about 40 yards apart made an instant connection Saturday morning.
Senior sweeper Shelby Cleaveland found classmate Dani Nicosia early in the second half for a goal that lifted the Oneonta High girls soccer team to within one win of the program’s first state championship.
Nicosia scored with 33 minutes, 12 seconds left and the Yellowjackets repelled a late Cold Spring Harbor surge to win, 1-0, in a Class B state semifinal at Tompkins Cortland Community College.
“It just feels amazing,” Nicosia said. “We’ve been working toward this since we lost to Bronxville last year (in a Class B state quarterfinal). We have all the fire in the world.”
OHS went on to ... Section Five’s Greece Odyssey in Sunday’s final.
On a frigid but wind-free morning at TCCC, Oneonta had the better of play during a scoreless first half that included a disallowed goal by the Yellowjackets. With about 24 1/2 minutes left in the first half, Taryn More beat a defender at the left edge of the penalty box before centering a pass that Brieanna Baker finished from 6 yards. But an official ruled Baker broke too early and was offsides.
Oneonta avoided an offsides and converted on its next good chance.
The ball probably traveled about 150 yards in about 10 seconds, starting with a throw-in from the right side by junior Mariah Ruff. Her long throw made it into the box, but a Seahawks defender cleared it.
Jackets senior Jen Jelic then tracked down the ball about 10 yards short of midfield and sent a pass back to Cleaveland, who was positioned on the left side in Oneonta territory.
Cleaveland then showed off her powerful leg, driving a pass that traveled about 40 yards.
“The ball was rolling back to me and everyone is always like, play it to the corner when you get it, and (OHS coach Jerry) Mackey’s telling me to clear the ball when I get it,” Cleaveland said. “So I just kicked it up blindly and angled it to the middle.”
It turned out to be perfect. Players on both teams were transitioning upfield and suddenly, Cleaveland had them going back in the other direction.
“I was offsides at first,” Nicosia said of her 14th goal of the season. “Then I tracked back. Shelby kicked it and I just timed (my run) perfectly. I saw the opportunity to slip it past the keeper.”
The only drama left was whether Seahawks goalie Stephanie Mahder would beat Nicosia to the bouncing ball. Nicosia won that race easily and volleyed a soft, 18-yard shot over the charging Mahder and into an open net.
“It was a great chip-back ball by Shelby and then Dani had the composure to finish it,” Mackey said. “It put us in great position, but then you look up and there’s 32 minutes left.”
From the midway mark of the second half until about three minutes remained, CSH put as much pressure on the Yellowjackets as anyone has this postseason. The Seahawks generated three of their five corner kicks during that span and all of them had goal potential. During the same span, Yellowjackets defender Meg Burns cleared a ball that had gone past goalie Emmalee Sloman, and Sloman stopped a low shot by Chelsea Tuohy from close range.
“There were scrambles in front of their goal, but no one got a clean, quality shot off,” said Seahawks standout Teressa Fazio, who spent most of her day trying to free herself from the defense of Madison Miller.
“The best team we’ve played this season is Garden City, a Class A school from Long Island,” she continued. “I think Oneonta is a little better (than Garden City). (Oneonta) is probably the best team we’ve played this season.”
The Yellowjackets clinched their first trip to the state championship game since 2004 when Cami Cleaveland and Nicosia played a cat-and-mouse game in the right corner. The two seniors burned the final 2:20 or so by sending short passes to one another in the corner. Their clever play in about a 10-yard window resulted in two corner kicks and two fouls.
Oneonta 1, CSH 0
CLASS B STATE SEMIFINAL
Saturday at Tompkins Cortland CC
Number preceding team indicates section
Cold Spring Harbor 0 0 — 0
Oneonta 0 1 — 1
8-Cold Spring Harbor (15-4): None.
4-Oneonta (18-2-1): Dani Nicosia 1-0, Shelby Cleaveland 0-1.
Shots-corner kicks: C 7-5; O 8-7.
Goalies: Stephanie Mahder (C) 3; Emmalee Sloman (O) 5.
Rob Centorani can be reached at email@example.com or 607-432-1000, ext 209.