Champs! Unbeaten Blue Devils win Section IV Class D title
By Julia Green
It was a battle from start to finish, when the second-seeded Margaretville Blue Devils faced top-seeded Cherry Valley-Springfield Saturday in the Section IV Class D championship game at the National Soccer Hall of Fame complex in Oneonta.
The match-up marked the first meeting of the season between the two undefeated teams; the Blue Devils entered the contest with a 16-0-1 overall record after clinching the Delaware League title and posting convincing wins over Hunter-Tannersville and Candor to advance to Saturday’s title game. Cherry Valley-Springfield entered Saturday’s championship with an 18-0 record.
“We knew Cherry Valley-Springfield was a very good team,” said fourth-year head coach Jeremey Marks. “The fact that they’d given up only five goals throughout the year, and their record… obviously, they were undefeated and in the final for a good reason, so we knew we had to play well. But I was confident in our players. We talk about having confidence, believing in each other and having confidence in ourselves, and I liked our chances going into the game.”
“I expected that we’d come out ready to play,” he added. “With this being a goal of ours, not only to get to the final but to win it, I wasn’t worried about our guys being ready to play.”
The Blue Devils appeared to have a slight majority of the momentum in the opening minutes of the game, which paid off when senior Javier Martinez put Margaretville on the board less than six minutes in. Junior Tyler Smith won possession of the ball and beat a defender on the right-hand side of the field before sending the ball into the goalmouth, where Martinez was in the right place to bury it in the back of the net.
“Coming out and getting that first goal was big,” Marks said. “It settled us down and I think it kind of stunned Cherry Valley a little bit. We had been getting off to better starts in recent games and scoring early, and I thought in a game of that magnitude and when you have two teams as good as we both are, that first goal is a big goal.”
The one-goal advantage fueled the Blue Devils’ fire, as they continued to earn opportunities, keeping the heat on the Cherry Valley defense as they peppered Patriots’ goalkeeper Ben VanAlstine with shots.
Cherry Valley battled back, however, with a dangerous opportunity coming nearly 10 minutes after the Blue Devils’ first goal, but MCS defender Patrick O’Connell preserved his team’s lead when he cleared the ball off the line.
“I give a lot of credit to our defense,” Marks said. “Patrick in the first half blocked one off the line, and there were some loose balls in the box that our guys cleared. One of Cherry Valley’s strengths is finishing in the 18 and we knew that. We talked about it for a couple days, how their guys are very opportunistic in terms of capitalizing on loose balls in and around the 18, and I thought our defense did a nice job not giving up on the play and staying with their men.”
Margaretville carried its one-goal lead into halftime, which Marks acknowledged was key.
“It’s nice to go in with a lead,” he said. “At halftime I talked about trying to generate more scoring opportunities by winning the ball and staying with our passing game and not being in such a rush to play it forward.”
The second half was more back and forth between the teams, with both earning scoring opportunities but unable to capitalize. Around the 20-minute mark, however, the momentum swung in the Blue Devils’ favor again, as they began taking better touches, settling the ball, and distributing well.
“Right around the 20-minute mark, I thought we really grabbed the momentum in terms of really attacking them offensively, which finally led to us breaking through,” Marks said.
A quick throw-in from the left-hand side by Sam Mendoza found the feet of Martinez, who settled it and rifled a shot from between two defenders that sailed over the head of VanAlstine and into the net to give Margaretville a 2-0 lead with 21:40 remaining.
“There’s something to be said for seniors stepping up in big moments and in big games, and Javi saved one of his best efforts for today,” Marks said. “He was outstanding in terms of distributing, his first goal was just great anticipation and being in the right place and the right time, and his second goal was just a great shot. He’s got quick feet and makes good decisions, and I’m glad he was just on today.”
The goal resulted in an undeniable swell in the Blue Devils’ force, as shown when they found the net three minutes later; however, the center referee disallowed the goal. Margaretville forwards Peter Cella and Cody Fronckowiak challenged VanAlstine for a ball inside the 18, which the keeper fumbled; Fronckowiak was there to drive it into the net, but the official ruled that VanAlstine had possession and denied what would have given the Blue Devils a three-goal lead.
The Patriots took advantage of the opportunity, turning up the pressure on the Blue Devils’ defense. Margaretville defenders O’Connell and Jacob Johnson joined forces to once again clear a ball off the line, but Cherry Valley kept up the pressure, tallying their first goal of the day at the 14-minute mark to narrow the Blue Devils’ lead to one.
“In retrospect, it was tough because that would have pretty much sealed it for us, being up 3-0 with 15 minutes to play,” Marks said. “But I still felt good about our situation at 2-0; it’s just unfortunate that that call did not go our way. Honestly, I thought that stole some of our momentum and I think we lost a little bit, but we still were defending and we were still playing our game, and then they scored on just a loose ball.”
The Blue Devils hung on for the win, however, maintaining their composure and managing to keep the Cherry Valley offense from mounting any serious attacks in the remaining minutes.
“It was a great atmosphere, we had great fans, the community came out and supported us, and I hope they were proud of how we played and what the outcome was,” Marks said. “And I was extremely proud of how both teams handled themselves throughout the game in terms of handling the magnitude of the game and not letting things get out of control. I think both teams stayed right in it until the end.”
Marks said he was especially pleased by his team’s composure following the disallowed goal and the Patriots’ scoring.
“Within a matter of five minutes, the emotions of being up 3-0 to being up 2-1, I think a younger, more inexperienced team might have gotten rattled a little bit,” he said. “But our guys stayed composed, stayed confident, and hung in there together.”
Saturday’s Section IV title marks the eighth in MCS boys’ soccer history and the first since 2002.
“In terms of what I told the guys, we’re just going to enjoy this,” Marks said. “You have to enjoy the moment when you win a championship, because nothing’s guaranteed. You never know when you’re going to make it back. So we’re going to enjoy this, but by the same token, once we get back to school, our focus is on the next step.”
That next step is the Class D state quarterfinal, in which the Blue Devils will face defending champion Hamilton, who claimed the state title last year. The quarterfinal match will be played on Saturday at a Section III location, the time and site of which are yet to be determined.