Unatego shuts out Little Falls, advances to first-ever state final four

RYAN AMES | The Daily Star Paige McCoy (center) and Hali Lucia (right) react after Lucia scored the opening goal during the first half of Saturday's Class C girls soccer regional final in Norwich.

NORWICH – Unatego clinched its first-ever trip to the girls soccer state semifinals with a 2-0 win over Little Falls on Saturday, Nov. 9, in a NYSPHSAA Class C regional final.

Hali Lucia and Dana Stepp tallied the goals for the Spartans and goalie Meghan Perry earned the 18-save shutout in Unatego’s historic victory.

“It’s really nice and we’ve never made it to the final four so that’s really big for us, that’s really cool,” Lucia said.

Saturday’s game marked a rematch of last year’s regional final that the Mounties won, 1-0, and the second meeting this season between the squads. The Spartans won the first game, 4-3, in the Kyle Sharpe Tournament final.

“I’m very proud of the way we played,” Unatego coach Sue Herodes said. “It’s such a thrill for these girls because they’re wonderful kids and I couldn’t be more happy for my group of kids.”

The Spartans were awarded a free kick from the 18 in the 21st minute of the first half after a Little Falls handball.

Morgan Perry took the kick for Unatego and sent a stinger on goal that Mounties goalie Jadyn Hysack (10 saves) lost control of, and Lucia was there to clean up the rebound, giving the Spartans the 1-0 lead.

“It went right by her body and she was on her stomach on the right side,” Lucia said.

The Spartans used that goal to settle in and control the pace for the rest of the opening half. Little Falls mustered six shots in the first 40 minutes.

The Mounties began the second half with the bulk of the pressure, forcing the Spartans to use a lot of energy in the defensive half.

“I mean they were tired, I didn’t do a lot of subbing,” Herodes said. “Our legs were bothering us and when you’re starting to feel tired you kind of lose sight of what actually saves us energy. When you fall off and you give them that much space, you end up having to use a lot more energy tracking back runs rather than denying the ball and not having to work as hard.”

The Little Falls pair of Gabriella Straney and Olivia Lindsay each earned multiple bids to score, but the Unatego defense held strong throughout the continuous pressure.

“Defensively we did really well keeping (Straney) and (Lindsay) out of the box with the ball,” Lucia said. "That’s what our goal was and it worked out.”

In the 26th minute of the second half, the Spartans took possession back and Kylie Mussaw fluttered a beautiful through ball to Stepp, who won the foot race to the ball and curved a shot into the lower left corner, doubling the Spartans’ advantage.

From then on Unatego focused its resources on defense as the Mounties were desperate to get something going offensively.

Little Falls managed a few flurries late, but Perry turned aside every opportunity, including a few in-tight saves that looked marked for the back of the net.

“She’s very focused and the kids have a lot of confidence in her,” Herodes said.

Perry made 12 of her 18 total saves in the second half.

The Spartans concluded with 12 shots and two corners while the Mounties finished with 18 shots and seven corners.

“We stayed with everything, we settled down the last two minutes or so and finally started to play a little bit of possession and get the ball out of the mix,” Herodes said. “It’s just an awesome feeling and it’s an honor to be their coach.”

Unatego (18-0-1) moves on to face Section I's Haldance next weekend at Cortland High School. It’ll be the last week of the season for the Spartans regardless of the outcome, and they seem ready for the challenge.

“It’s the last week of practices for me ever so that’s kind of big,” Lucia said. “I’m just going to work hard every day and take it all down, every second I can.”

Unatego 2, Little Falls 0

Little Falls…. 0 0 – 0

Unatego…. 1 1 – 2

Little Falls: None.

Unatego: Hali Lucia 1-0, Dana Stepp 1-0, Kylie Mussaw 0-1.

Shots-corners: LF 18-7; U 12-2.

Goalies: Jadyn Hysack (LF) 10; Meghan Perry (U) 18.

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