Blue Devils advance to sectional championship, fall to South Kortright
By Julia Green
In typical Margaretville Blue Devil fashion, the team showed up to play when the game was on the line. But in Saturday’s Section IV, Class D soccer championship match at the Hall of Fame complex in Oneonta, that time came with less than 20 minutes left, giving the second-seeded Blue Devils precious little time to find the net.
Margaretville faced cross-league rival South Kortright for the title in the third match-up of the season between the two teams, and the game was a battle from start to finish, with the top-seeded Rams edging the Blue Devils, 1-0.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game,” said Margaretville Head Coach Jeremey Marks. “It was going to be a tough task because of how familiar these two teams are with each other, having played each other so many times in the last few years.”
The Blue Devils’ trip to the championship match came following a thrilling 2-1 victory over Morris in the semi-final round. Ultimately, it was two sparks off the bench who were the difference-makers for the second-seeded Blue Devils in Thursday’s sectional semifinal, where they faced the 11th-seeded Morris Mustangs. Sophomore Tyler Smith and junior Sam Mendoza set up the chances for Margaretville to find the net that sealed the victory for the Blue Devils and sent them to the sectional finals for the first time since 2002.
First-half action was back and forth on Thursday, with the Blue Devils’ start one of reactive defense. With 19 minutes left in the first half, Margaretville nearly went into the hole off a deflected ball by one of its own defenders; luckily for the Blue Devils, however, the ball squeaked wide.
The Blue Devils couldn’t seem to mount a counterattack, and a large gap between the midfielders and the forwards resulted in a lot of running for Margaretville’s midfielders and a lot of frustration for its forwards. In the latter part of the second half, though, the trademark Blue Devils’ spark made a reappearance.
A handful of beautifully executed give-and-gos on the sidelines between Greg Lehn, Marcus Moore, Javier Martinez and Abraham Morales constituted some of the Blue Devils’ best passing this season, and carried them into the Morris defensive third consistently before the halftime mark.
It seemed as though it would come down to the strongest goalkeeping, with Morris’ Utter and Margaretville keeper Brian Faulkner both offering superhuman showings, each making at least two key saves to keep their respective teams in the competition.
Shortly before the 30-minute mark, Faulkner made what was perhaps a game-saving decision for the Blue Devils, choosing to come off his line and close down the angle when he found himself the last line of defense facing a Morris attacker.
Almost immediately thereafter, a brilliant pass from Josh Smith to Martinez at the other end of the field looked like a sure goal for the Blue Devils, and Martinez’s beautifully-placed shot rocketed toward the roof of the net, but a Superman-like save from Utter kept the game scoreless.
With just over 22 minutes remaining in the second half, Faulkner once again saved the day. As the Margaretville defense drew its line in the sand at the 18-yard box, a Morris attacker lofted a shot from 20 yards out – a shot destined for the upper quadrant of the net – but Faulkner was there to tip it over the bar.
That save from Faulkner resulted in a corner kick for the Mustangs that turned out to be the turning point for the Blue Devils. After the ball was cleared by the Margaretville defense, sophomore Tyler Smith scooped it up and sparked a counterattack.
It was Smith to Smith, as Tyler penetrated deep into Morris’ defensive third and picked his head up to find his brother, Josh, in the middle of the field. A beautiful give-and-go resulted in some ping-pong in the box with center midfielder Marcus Moore on hand to drive the ball into the net and give Margaretville the lead.
In the true back-and-forth fashion that epitomized Thursday’s game, Morris answered with its own counterattack that resulted in a corner kick, and a well-placed ball to the top of the six by Morris’ Eric Smith was finished by Justin Card and tied the score at one goal apiece with 12:50 remaining.
But the Blue Devils kept their composure, and the team, who never seems to have a problem with their backs to the wall, responded.
Josh Smith lofted a ball over the top toward the corner flag and toward Mendoza, who was streaking down the right flank. A few touches were followed by an excellent cross by Mendoza into the box. Morris keeper Utter pounced, but the ball squeaked loose and Margaretville forward Cody Fronckowiak was in the right place at the right time to bury it in the net for his ninth goal of the season.
The Blue Devils were at a disadvantage early Saturday when defensive anchor Steve Amundsen went down after a double-team tackle that resulted in a broken fibula less than 10 minutes into the first half. Amundsen, whose ball-winning has been vital to the Blue Devils’ counterattack abilities all season, was noticeably missed as the game progressed.
“Losing Steve was tough,” Marks said. “He’s the heart and soul of our defense, and an emotional leader for us as well. It hurt not having his presence in the middle of the field.”
Another starting defender, Mitch VanKeuren, also left the game with an ankle injury before the end of the first half.
“It’s tough to lose two all-conference players before halftime, but we have capable guys who were ready to come in and play,” Marks said.
The two teams battled to a scoreless halftime tie, though not for a lack of scoring opportunities. Margaretville midfielder Marcus Moore launched a shot from 20 yards out that was just over the crossbar, while a counterattack by the Rams not five minutes later resulted in a great save by Margaretville goalkeeper Brian Faulkner, who punched the ball away. The back-and-forth continued, as the Blue Devils had another opportunity to take the lead five minutes before the half, when they were awarded a free kick just outside the 18-yard box; however, the direct kick went over the bar. The subsequent goal kick resulted in another South Kortright counterattack, in which the Rams sent a shot over the crossbar of the Blue Devils’ goal.
The second half mimicked much of the first, with physical play and counterattacks constituting much of the action. Midway through the half, the Rams seemed to gain the momentum, with the Blue Devils playing a mostly defensive game and the Rams creating numerous scoring opportunities. With just over 17 minutes left in regulation, South Kortright’s Eric Burns found the back of the net off a corner kick.
“We knew this game had the possibility of coming down to one goal and it was a matter of who was going to take advantage of a corner or a direct kick, and it’s just one of those things that happened where the ball happened to bounce their way.”
The Blue Devils had another chance to equalize at the 10-minute mark, after Moore was fouled just outside the penalty area and was awarded a direct kick, which senior forward Josh Smith put on frame almost immediately; however, SK goalkeeper Charlie Darling was ready, and scooped the ball up.
It was almost two goals for the Rams with nine-and-a-half minutes left, after a defensive miscommunication left Faulkner one-on-one with a South Kortright forward, but he was able to keep the score at one with a well-executed save.
“Congratulations to South Kortright – they played a great game,” Marks said. “They’re a good team, they’re well-coached, and there’s a lot of mutual respect between our two programs. We wish them luck and hope they advance in state play.”
South Kortright will face Section III champion Hamilton this Saturday in Oneonta at the Soccer Hall of Fame.
Saturday’s game marked the Margaretville boys’ first trip to the championship match since 2002.
“We’re disappointed in the result, but very proud of the team and their effort all year,” Marks said. “And certainly we’ll miss the senior class and how they’ve impacted the program but we look forward to the future and feel confident that the returning players will keep the program moving in the right direction.”
The Blue Devils will lose four seniors to graduation this year: starting forward Josh Smith, starting defender Guy Nobile and midfielders Lucas LaBumbard and Chris Costa.