Two boys soccer teams that have undergone largely different seasons will play for sectional titles, as Ithaca and Lansing take the field for the right to advance to the state tournament.
In the Section 4 Class AA championship game, the third-seeded Little Red (8-6-1) will play top-seeded Corning (10-5), ranked 20th in the state in Class AA. That game, originally scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday at the National Soccer Hall of Fame complex in Oneonta, has been postponed due to poor field conditions. The game will be played Monday at a site and time to be announced.
In the Class C final, the top-seeded Bobcats (18-0) will put a perfect record and No. 2 state ranking on the line when they take on third-seeded Greene (16-2). That game is still schedule to be played at 2:30 p.m. at the Hall of Fame.
Despite owning a 4-6-1 record in early October, coach Gilbert Antoine’s Ithaca squad is now just one win away from a sectional title and a spot in the Class AA state playoffs.
The Little Red rides a four-game winning streak into Monday’s final. That run began with a 4-0 road rout of the Hawks on Oct. 5, although just four days earlier Ithaca fell at home, 2-1, in overtime to Corning.
In the sectional semifinal last Tuesday, the Little Red erupted for three first-half goals on its way to a 5-2 win at second-seeded Elmira, a team Ithaca had lost to both times during the regular season.
Corning advanced to the final thanks to a 3-0 win over fourth-seeded Union-Endicott.
Antoine said his team has enjoyed the role of dark horse this season, especially when playing away from Moresco Stadium.
“We tend to play better when we’re away,” he said. “We are very young, but we’ve been consistent in our play, and when we are out of town we tend to play much better. We tend to focus better and we have better control of how we’re distributing the ball.”
Senior forward Eh Tha Dah scored twice against the Express and has a knack of scoring big goals for the Little Red, which counts 18 non-seniors on its roster.
Tha Dah scored Ithaca’s lone goal in a 2-1 loss to Union-Endicott in the sectional semifinals a year ago.
Fellow seniors Lucas Williamson and Teddy Morris-Knower have also made big contributions, while sophomores Jean and Luc Sinon and Amir Omar also see plenty of playing time. Antoine said he has no plans to alter his lineup for the final.
“It’s not a matter of senior, junior or anything like that,” said Antoine. “It’s the final and we’re very happy with how we’ve played. I think we are really looking forward to the game.”
Senior co-captain Cobi Byrne scored both goals in a 2-0 victory over fourth-seeded Watkins Glen in the Section 4 Class C semifinals at Tompkins Cortland Community College on Thursday to put top-seeded Lansing right back where it was a year ago: undefeated and in the sectional final.
Last season, the Bobcats fell behind 1-0 to Marathon in the Class C championship game in Oneonta before then-junior Ellington Hopkins struck twice to send his team to the state playoffs.
Now, the third-seeded Trojans are the only thing between Lansing and a return trip, where the Bobcats — ranked second in the state in Class C — are hellbent on avenging last season’s 1-0 loss to Port Jefferson of Section 11 in the state semifinals.
Greene defeated seventh-seeded Seton Catholic Central, 4-1, on Wednesday in the other semifinal.
Byrne and Hopkins have said that this season has been more “businesslike” as Lansing attempts to win its first state title in boys soccer, while coach Adam Heck adds that his players aren’t the only ones aware of his team’s ambitions.
“I think it feels like teams are out to get us, which is rightfully so,” said Heck. “It makes it a little harder for us, but it’s also rewarding for our program. It’s about respect, and we respect our opponents a great deal. It’s nice to know that we’re a team with a bull’s-eye on our back.”
Lansing has surrendered a single goal in 18 games this season while scoring 73, all without the services of senior all-state striker Ethan Kutler and junior midfielder Benji Geisler, two of the Bobcats’ biggest offensive threats last year, who are foregoing high school soccer to take part in an academy program.
“They’re good, they’re young and they’ve got nothing to lose,” said Heck of Greene. “Once you get this far every team is good.”