For the second consecutive week, the Elmira Notre Dame girls soccer team knocked off the state’s top-ranked team in the Class C state tournament. This time the Crusaders earned a berth in their first championship game since winning their only state title in 2003.
The Crusaders broke open a defensive battle with two late goals for a 2-0 victory over Schohaire in a semifinal Saturday on Field 1 at Cortland High School.
“I thought it was just a really well-played game and pretty even, especially in the second half up to when we scored,” Notre Dame head coach Steve Weber said. “There wasn’t a ton of scoring opportunities in this game, but each team had a couple of good ones.”
Crusaders senior Emma Booth, who was questionable with an ankle injury that she suffered in last week’s 2-0 quarterfinal win over then No. 1 and unbeaten Sauquoit Valley, headed in a corner kick with 14:33 remaining to break the scoreless tie. Four minutes later, freshman Laurel Vargas took a pass from Booth and broke free for an insurance goal.
“I was a little timid in the beginning because I didn’t want to hurt my foot more in case we made it the finals,” Booth said. “Just at the end, I said ‘It’s all or nothing, I have to give it my best because this is my last chance.’… I knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance and I succeeded. I’m really excited to make it to the finals.”
Third-ranked Notre Dame (18-1) advances to the title game at 9:30 a.m. Sunday against second-ranked Port Jefferson (14-2) of Section 11 on the Red Field at SUNY Cortland. Port Jefferson defeated Section 5’s Caledonia-Mumford in their semifinal, 4-1, on the same site Saturday.
“It feels great because I don’t really feel like we anticipated this in the beginning of the year,” Weber said. “Coming in to the season, we thought we would be strong but we didn’t think we would be able to make a run to a state title.”
Notre Dame entered the game having given up just four goals all season and Schohaire (18-2-1) had only allowed six, so it was no wonder both teams’ defenses shined.
“Our defense is tough. They have been great all season long,” Weber said.
Each team had few real good scoring opportunities until late in the second half, when the offenses pressured the opposing goalie into making some big saves.
“When you get in a match like this, that is this close, anything can happen,” Schohaire head coach Kevin Scofield said. “They had some good chances and so did we. It was an entertaining game.”
Notre Dame finished with eight shots and three corner kicks while Schohaire took seven shots and also had three corners. Crusaders keeper Mackenzie Maloney made three saves and Indians goalie Desiree Palmatier stopped four shots.
It took Notre Dame some time to get in sync in the first half, but once the Crusaders did they mounted the better scoring opportunities. Vargas had the best chance to score, stretching for a loose ball that was covered up by Palmatier mid-way into the half.
“They were really pressuring us hard over the first 10 to 15 minutes of the game and we were really on our heels,” Weber said. “I thought it evened up after that and the last 10 minutes we had a little bit better play.”
Booth’s sore ankle began to bother her later in the first half and the team made an adjustment, at her request, to move her back from her forward position to the midfield.
“She really didn’t practice much all week long because it was banged pretty good,” Weber said. “We moved her back there, and for the team that was the best thing, and I thought that helped us quite a bit.”
Booth came through in the second half, heading in a ball off of a corner kick from Vargas that a Schohaire defender failed to clear with her own header.
Booth said, “I just saw it in the air and I said, ‘This is it. If I can get this goal then maybe we can make it to the end.'”
With a one-goal deficit and time running down, Schohaire moved another forward to the top, making the Indians vulnerable on the defensive end. With 10:35 remaining, Booth found Vargas streaking up the middle. Vargas dribbled past the sole defender and easily scored while one-on-one with Palmatier .
“She is awful tough finishing when she gets a chance,” Weber said. “That goal took an awful lot of pressure off at that point.”
Said Scofield, “We pushed everybody up to try and make something happen and we got numbers the other way and they scored.”
On Twitter: @SGRLevanduski