Webster Thomas’ Ryan Cullen, left, breaks away from Webster Schroeder’s Andriy Demydiv and Conor Bollin to score the Titans’ first half goal during a Class AA semifinal played at Rhinos Stadium on Oct. 27, 2016.
Webster Thomas’ boys soccer players celebrated reaching the Section V semifinals by bleaching their hair earlier this week. Every Titan did it. Next week they’ll try to take the starch out of top-seeded Fairport.
The Titans, who knocked off No. 2 and defending champion Hilton in the quarterfinals, came from behind on Thursday night to dismiss town rival Webster Schroeder, 2-1, at Rhinos Stadium. Thomas (11-6-2), just a No. 7 seed, faces Fairport (16-1-1) in Tuesday’s 7:30 p.m. Class AA championship match at Spencerport.
“I’m surprised that we made it this far but we’re going to make it count in the finals,” said Titans speedy junior forward Ryan Cullen, who scored both goals. “I just wanted to make my opportunities count and I want to win sectionals. That’s my goal.”
Fairport throttled No. 4 Rush-Henrietta, 4-0, behind two goals and an assist from senior midfielder Peter Critchlow in the first semifinal. The Red Raiders won titles in 2013 and 2014 and were runner-up last year.
Cullen also scored a pair in the quarterfinals, shocking Hilton by connecting twice in the first four minutes of a 4-2 win. Cullen wasn’t the only Titan to come up big again.
Goalkeeper Jake Witte made his second straight start in place of senior standout Andrew Kennedy, who suffered a concussion in the sectional opener, and the junior was nearly flawless on a cold night.
“He’s a scrappy kind of kid … he’s been able to step up his game huge — huge,” coach Steve Grose said of his 5-foot-6 keeper.
Seventh-seeded Schroeder (10-8-1) stunned Thomas by taking the lead in the sixth minute on Colin Merkey’s 16-yard shot into the side netting at the far post, but Thomas dominated play. It just couldn’t cash in.
“The result is a fair result,” Warriors coach David Urbanski said. “I’m happy for them. Thomas, to go down that early, to fight (back), that showed a lot of character, a lot of heart.”
The teams split a pair of 2-1 results in the regular season.
Cullen was wide on an easy header in front, Matt Hill missed wide on a shot and Jason Buckley’s 45-yard bomb was tipped over the bar by goalie Gaurav Cheema.
But Cullen redeemed himself with a great solo effort, speeding past three defenders on his own dribble about 40 yards out and finally slotting a shot past Cheema 5:36 before intermission.
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“He’s got an extra gear a lot of kids don’t,” Grose said of Cullen. “That’s what he did against Hilton and he did it again.”
It stayed 1-1 until 25:15 remained. Cuneyt Vardar shot from 35 yards and Cheema couldn’t handle it. Cullen was right there to tuck in the rebound. Those two are now tied for the team lead with seven goals.
In addition to Kennedy, Thomas midfielder Ben McKeowen also is out with a concussion, so it has needed to find new contributors, like Witte. He made a good sliding block on Finn McHugh’s shot and was on the near post where he needed to be on Ryan Delaney’s shot with nine minutes left to play.
“I had to decide whether I wanted to train for (swimming this fall) or play soccer,” Witte said. “I feel like I made the right choice.”
In the first semifinal, Fairport found its form after a sluggish start and Critchlow was the catalyst. The fourth-year player has a team-high 19 goals. R-H (11-6) handed the Red Raiders their only loss, 3-2, early in the season thanks to a late rally.
Fairport won the rematch 4-1 but saw the Royal Comets come out flying Thursday. “The first 20 minutes they dominated us and we knew we had to step it up,” Critchlow said.
The Monroe County Division I Player of the Year scored twice 6½ minutes apart midway through the first half. Critchlow made a quick lateral move just outside the 18-yard line and while dribbling to his right shot back to his left, wrong-footing the R-H goalie who dived but couldn’t reach the ball.
“Just a striker’s finish,” coach Gianni Bussani said. “You don’t have to blast it. He placed it very well across the goalie, low (and) hard.”
The second goal was “all heart,” Bussani said. “There was no what he wasn’t going to score that goal.”
Critchlow’s initial shot hit teammate Diego Zavala and caromed off the crossbar. Critchlow was quickest to the ball again and ripped home a 16-yard shot.
“He kind of carried us through some tough moments and got us up on top,” Bussani said.
Zavala made it 3-0 six minutes into the second half and defender Bill Mueller got a piece of Critchlow’s free kick in front to make it 4-0.
Fairport’s Pete Critchlow, right, celebrates his second goal of the game with Nick Guida during a Class AA semifinal on Oct. 27, 2016.
Webster Schroeder’s Andriy Demydiv wins a header over Webster Thomas’ Ryan Leask on Oct. 27, 2016.
Fairport goalie Jake Horst dives to push a cross away from Rush-Henrietta’s Zein Mohamed on Oct. 27, 2016.