Maine-Endwell’s goal didn’t have to happen, and Johnson City can point to a handful of legitimate scoring chances that never made it into the goal.
If you’re the second-seeded Spartans, it’s a wonderful thing, and if you’re the third-seeded Wildcats, it’s cold and cruel.
Through drizzles and downpours, slight breezes and heavy gusts, host M-E emerged with a 1-0 Section 4 Class A semifinal victory Wednesday on a goal by Jahmal Auguste 7 minutes, 31 seconds before halftime.
And the guys exchanging high-fives and hugs when it ended didn’t even qualify for sectionals last season. They lugged a 6-6-2 record onto their rain-soaked carpet.
“We wanted to prove to people that we have a lot of skill,” said senior Shea Osovski, a speedy and powerfully built forward. “A lot of people look at us as the underdog, as a team that’s not going to put out, but today, I think we did amazing.”
The victory earned M-E a spot in Saturday’s Class A title game against top-seeded Vestal or No. 4 Owego at the Wright National Soccer Campus in Oneonta. The host Golden Bears and Indians will play their semifinal at 6 p.m. Thursday, choosing to push it back a day to avoid the harsh conditions present at M-E on Wednesday.
Spartans coach Bo Jelovac said before the game that because the field is soaked and the ball is wet that his offensive players should assume nothing. There’s no such thing as a routine save on this day.
The boys listened, and it led to game’s lone goal.
A long ball was played from midfield and appeared to be bouncing harmlessly toward JC goalie Adam Burns, but Osovski gave chase nonetheless. First, Burns bobbled it about 15 yards from the goal and then lost possession of it. Osovski said he never touched the ball.
Auguste sprinted to the loose ball on the left side of the box and calmly kicked it into an open net.
“The ball was coming through, and he just kind of bobbled it on the (right) arm,” Auguste said. “It pops out, and I’m just doing what I have to do to put in the net.”
What followed for the Wildcats in the second half was a season’s worth of frustration. Chance after chance, free kick after free kick, dangerous shot after dangerous shot, and nothing to show for it.
It started a minute into the half, when Justin Butler sent a free kick from 43 yards in the direction of standout Haris Brkovic, who headed it just over the crossbar. About six minutes later, Lisberto Calvo beat a defender along the left baseline before passing back to Grant Grabowski, who sent a liner from left wing over the crossbar.
With 29 minutes left, the Spartans had their best chance after halftime. Osovski had possession going from left-to-right across the top of the box before hitting a wicked grounder toward the left post, but Burns went horizontal to stop it.
Another free kick for the Wildcats, this one from Minh Chau from 30 yards, clanged off the crossbar with 22 minutes remaining. Two-and-a-half minutes later, Butler sent a lofted shot from 45 yards that M-E goalie Ethan Millard tipped away at the line.
Butler set up Brkovic for another header with 11½ minutes to go, and this one missed wide of the right post. Then, JC’s Kolbie Rowe rifled a shot from 25 yards that Millard redirected over the crossbar. On the ensuing corner kick by Butler, Millard punched away a dangerous ball about 5 yards from the goal.
“We thought repeatedly it was going to go in,” said JC coach Bill Arno, whose team finished the season at 12-3-1. “We thought we were going to score three to four goals. It was so close. We just couldn’t get that little extra inch to get the ball in the net. It’s a game of inches, and it went against us today. My guys played the hardest they could play.”
Of Millard’s play, Jelovac said: “Ethan was huge for us today. He didn’t drop any balls, he caught them all or he punched them out. This is one of the best games he’s played.”
M-E’s back line of Auguste, Nicholas Pham, Jacob Deuel and Jonathan Bosch also played key roles. They consistently kept JC shooters out of the 18-yard box and allowed no rebound opportunities.
“We were just working together,” Auguste said. “Even when they were pressuring us, we just cleared it out and started again.”
M-E played Vestal twice this season, losing 4-0 at home early in the season and then tying the host Golden Bears, 3-3, in the second meeting. The Spartans haven’t played Owego this season.
“We need to come out with the same energy we had today and keep it throughout the game,” Osovski said of Saturday. “We can definitely do it.”
On Twitter: @PSBRob