On Monday afternoon, Ithaca High’s perfect boys’ soccer season took the Little Red into rarified air — No. 1 in the state.
And later in the day, Ithaca gave Vestal a close-up look at just why the state’s sportswriters have the deemed them best in New York.
Senior Tristan Cornell-Roberts opened the game with a natural hat trick — three goals in succession, the first two coming in the opening 88 seconds — and Ithaca was well on its way to a 7-0 rout of the Golden Bears in Southern Tier Athletic Conference action at Moresco Stadium.
“They are good, very good,” Vestal coach Dave Barr said of the Little Red, which improved to 12-0 and have outscored their opponents by a whopping 63-2. The Golden Bears (8-4), who gave Ithaca a battle last month in Vestal before falling, 1-0, saw their four-game win streak come to an end.
“They’re good at possession, the passes are crisp and they’re moving, they’re sprinting, they’re fast,” Barr said. “They’re the No. 1 team, you can tell. And once you get down three goals, everything drops, and it’s hard to come back.”
After putting his team ahead by three, the speedy Cornell-Roberts assisted on a pair of second-half goals from junior striker Phyo Zay Htet, the second on a gorgeous diving header with 25 minutes to play.
Senior Pierre Clavel and junior Zeke Estes also scored for the Little Red, which outshot the Golden Bears, 26-3. Corner kicks were 8-3 in favor of the home team.
Junior goalkeeper Joe Pirc made 10 saves for Vestal; junior Kevin Klaben (1 save) and senior Parker Hay (0 saves) split time in the Ithaca net.
Just a few hours after the most recent New York State Sportswriters Association rankings were released, which put the Little Red atop the heap in Class AA, Cornell-Roberts put the Little Red on top against the Golden Bears.
After taking a long, over-the-top ball, Cornell-Roberts cut the ball inside the penalty area and, as Pirc was leaning to his right, the Little Red senior co-captain slid it the other way and into the goal just 30 seconds in. Fifty-eight seconds later, Cornell-Roberts got behind the defense and beat Pirc again to double the Ithaca lead, and 15 minutes later, he had his natural hat trick.
Cornell-Roberts admitted to being “pretty excited” about the most recent state rankings. Ithaca was ranked third last week.
“It’s what we’ve worked for all year, but it doesn’t mean a whole lot,” he said. “We still have to work hard every day and continue playing at this level. Our eyes are still on the state title, and (the No. 1 ranking) didn’t really mean a whole lot to us.”
Clavel put home a nice hard-angle shot from Pirc’s right to make it 4-0 with just 1:25 remaining until halftime.
Cornell-Roberts then fed Htet twice in a 12-minute span early in the second half to extend Ithaca’s lead to 6-0. On the first, Cornell-Roberts’ drive from the edge of the penalty box was deflected in front and dribbled right to Htet, who made no mistake; on the second, Htet left his feet to bang home a header from close range, off a nice cross from his running mate.
“He’s a marked man, everyone in the league knows who he is,” Ithaca coach Gilbert Antoine said of Cornell-Roberts. “But the way he plays is unorthodox. He’s very creative, and not only will he score, but he can facilitate other players on the team, which he did tonight.”
Antoine emptied his bench for the final 20 minutes or so, and Estes capitalized with 6:52 to play, cleaning up a loose Pirc rebound off a corner kick.
Vestal travels to Horseheads on Wednesday for a 4:30 p.m. match; Ithaca hosts Binghamton for Senior Night at 7 p.m. Wednesday.