HORSEHEADS — This was the rare girls soccer tie both teams were happy to have.
Following early goals from each side, Elmira and Horseheads ended up even at 1-1 after 100 minutes of play Thursday afternoon in a physical contest that saw the teams combine for 30 fouls. The tie clinched a fourth consecutive Southern Tier Athletic Conference West Division title for Elmira (10-2-1) while giving Horseheads confidence it can play with a team ranked fourth in Class AA by the New York State Sportswriters Association.
The Express played the last 13 minutes of regulation and both 10-minute overtime periods down a player after goalkeeper Skyelar Sancomb received a red card for committing a foul as the last player back on defense.
“We had a couple of starters go down (with injuries) in the last couple of days, we had a short bench and only 16 players who were healthy, we got one sent off, we got a few banged up early in the game here,” Express head coach Zach Sarno said. “To gut it out the way (our players) did and to show the enthusiasm to push on through is just absolutely unbelievable to me. Hats off to them. It’s all credit to them.”
Horseheads (8-3-2) could have kept its division title hopes alive with a victory, but the Blue Raiders gained a different kind of reward in some added confidence leading into the Section 4 Class AA tournament.
“It was an emotional day. It was Senior Day and our girls know their girls very, very well and play together in the offseason,” Horseheads head coach Henry Ferguson said. “We didn’t show up the first game (against Elmira), when we lost 4-1. The last couple of games we’ve been really working on getting our level of play up to where it needs to be. This was really a confidence builder for us, to play at the same level they are right now.”
Emily Smith, one of those seniors, gave the Blue Raiders the lead five minutes into play after Sancomb was unable to secure the ball after ranging far out of net. Smith booted the ball into the open net.
The advantage lasted less than two minutes, with Elmira scoring on a scramble off a corner kick when the ball was knocked into the net by a Horseheads player trying to clear the ball.
The Express had the better scoring chances in the first half and Horseheads’ offensive pressure was greater in the second half. Elmira finished with a 13-12 edge in shots, with Horseheads having a 4-3 advantage on corner kicks. Kelsie Walker had 10 saves for the Blue Raiders.
Just over six minutes into the second half, Horseheads’ bid to take the lead was denied when Sancomb made a diving save on a penalty kick from Blue Raiders senior Mia Strollo. Sancomb scrambled to clear the ball after knocking the hard, low shot to the ground.
Strollo and the rest of the Blue Raiders thought they had scored the go-ahead goal with 13:17 left in regulation. Sancomb was called for what turned out to be a red card as play continued. Strollo put the ball in the net, but the play had been whistled dead because the call came outside the 18-yard box.
Elmira turned to junior defender Ellie Nugent to play in net the remainder of the game.
“We put a girl in goal who has never played goal in her life,” Sarno said. “I just had to come up with something. As a coach, you’re always trying to keep an eye on things and watch. Back in the preseason, we were kicking the ball around for fun and stuff and she made a few saves in goal. For some reason, it popped in my mind as I was trying to brainstorm there.”
Nugent responded by making four saves in more than 33 minutes of action.
The Express controlled the pace through the overtime periods and nearly broke through with about four minutes left in the first extra period when Kendra Oldroyd delivered a crossing pass to Alexus Boorse. With the Horseheads goal empty, Boorse’s chip shot ended up landing on top of the net.
“With 10 players, at times we had some quality chances to actually win the match,” Sarno said. “And so did they. They played really hard. It’s always tough when we come up here and we know that.”
Elmira was whistled for 18 fouls, with 12 called against Horseheads.
“We got a little upset, got a little uncomposed at times with a few fouls we didn’t need to commit,” Sarno said. “I think some of it was tiredness. Really tired and trying to stay in the game and trying to get a result. We didn’t quite get it, but we’ll take a tie if that’s the best we can get out of it. Especially with having to play with 10 players late in the game and everything else.”
Elmira closes the regular season at Union-Endicott on Tuesday, then advances to the STAC tournament semifinals Oct. 17. Sarno said he expects that game to be at Chenango Forks, with Elmira at home the next week if it makes it to the finals.
Horseheads takes on unbeaten Vestal, the state’s No. 3 Class A team, Monday on the road before getting set for sectional play, where the Blue Raiders could meet two-time defending champion Elmira again in the Class AA tournament.
“It’s going to be a heck of a sectional playoff, with Corning too,” Ferguson said. “Three teams that on any one day can beat the others.”
On Twitter: @SGAndrewLegare