The rapid nature with which the Ithaca boys soccer team’s state championship hopes slipped away didn’t feel at all in line with the success the Little Red had built over the past three months.
A two-goal halftime lead turned into a one-goal deficit within the first 12 minutes of the second half and the Little Red fell to Ballston Spa, 4-2, on Saturday afternoon in a New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class AA semifinal on Middletown High School’s grass field.
Ballston Spa’s Griffen MacWatters scored the go-ahead goal on a header off a Noah Grenier free kick after Connor Defillipis and Patrick Haller registered rapid-fire goals within the first seven minutes of the half to even the score at 2-2.
“When it’s 2-0, it’s always very dangerous,” Ithaca head coach Gilbert Antoine said. “Ballston Spa, they came harder and they played hard and put a lot of pressure on us. … We made a lot of mistakes and they came back and won the game. Usually the better team wins.”
Haller added a second goal with four minutes remaining on a blast into the upper left corner to increase Ballston Spa’s lead to two.
“They just wanted it, they wanted it,” Ballston Spa head coach Garry Preece said of his players. “This is a big thing for them. It’s a special moment.”
While the Section 2 champion Scotties (20-0-1) advanced to Sunday afternoon’s championship game against Walt Whitman back at Middletown High, the Little Red saw its season end for the second year in a row in the state semifinals. Ithaca, ranked fifth nationally by USA Today, finished with a record of 18-1-1.
Antoine remained appreciative of the effort his guys gave him just minutes after seeing their season come to a close.
“I’m not disappointed, to be honest with you,” he said. “We’ve had a great season. It was a great run. This is the second year in a row we made it so far. We won our league championship, then sectionals, then regionals. To come here is a great success. One team has to lose and unfortunately it was us.”
Ithaca’s Thart Kwah Paw scored the game’s first goal off a rebound with 6:15 gone in the first half. The lead increased to two with 13:02 remaining in the half when Pierre Clavel broke in free and booted in a shot that Ballston Spa goalie Jake Durfee deflected before it trickled into the net.
Little Red goalie Kevin Klaben came up with two first-half saves on hard, low shots that forced him to quickly react to his left. In the second half the Scotties controlled the ball for much of the time and their shots started to find their mark.
“I think we lost the ball too much in the first half and made some errors,” Preece said. “It was just coming back to our normal game.
“It’s one of the best teams I’ve ever had, so the mindset was ‘We’re going to storm back and win.’ Very confident. I have some super players and they don’t panic. They’ve been down twice this year and both times they came back.”
Ithaca’s defense took a blow with the loss of defender Joseph Duncan to a head injury. Ballston Spa’s offensive pressure was met by some defensive lapses for the Little Red.
“This is our first loss of the season and you have to take it gracefully,” Antoine said. “You have to lose with dignity and respect the other team.”
On Twitter: @SGAndrewLegare