Sudden-death goal puts HP girls in final four

Published Nov 5, 2018 at 4:10pm

VERONA — After over 100 minutes of soccer at chilly, wind-swept Sheveron Stadium, Holland Patent senior Mayle Lupia-Eannace said she was so cold she couldn’t feel her legs.

But that didn’t prevent the defender who wears No. 1 from scoring perhaps the biggest goal in school history on Saturday night in a Class B state regional final against Albany’s Academy of the Holy Names at Vernon-Verona-Sherrill High School.

Lupia-Eannace deked her way past two or three defenders before burying her shot into the net with 3:44 left in the first period of sudden-death overtime to boost the Golden Knights to a 3-2 victory that sent them into the state semifinals.

Section III co-champion HP improved to 20-1-1 and will take a 17-game undefeated streak into the final four. The Golden Knights and coach Josh Olney will next play Section VI’s Allegany-Limestone, last year’s Class C state champion, on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at Cortland High School, with the winner advancing to Sunday’s state final. 

Holy Names, which finished 19-2 and saw its 18-game winning streak snapped, never trailed against HP before Lupia-Eannance’s game-winner set off a huge celebration and sent the new Sheveron Stadium scoreboard and lights flashing.

“I just wanted to get the game over. It was such a long night, and both teams wanted it so bad,” said Lupia-Eannace. Of her deciding goal, she said, “I couldn’t even feel my legs. I just tried getting a goal, and it went in.”

Junior defender Sara Rachon added a clutch tying goal off a penalty kick, sophomore Alexis Johnson had the unassisted first goal, and junior goalie Haedyn Roberts turned away nine shots as the Golden Knights survived a highly-charged contest that produced multiple yellow and red cards and even saw a spectator ejected by the officials.

The last six seconds of regulation and the entire overtime saw the visitors playing a girl short after junior Grace Field received a red card for picking up her second yellow. For the game, Holy Names received six yellows and the red, while HP picked up one yellow card.

That all did not sit well with Holy Names coach Chukwuma Asala, who did not mince words afterward.

“I think you saw it. My team had two yellow cards all year,” said Asala, speaking as players for HP were being honored in a postgame ceremony. “They’re a good team, and I respect them…But the officiating was pathetic, and the section needs to do a better job.

“It’s a regional final game. You can’t have a team that has two cards all year have six yellow cards and a red card. That’s an officiating problem. My girls do not play dirty.”

Holy Names also lost one of its starting players in the second half when sophomore midfielder Bella Tronco sufered an apparent leg injury and was carried off the field.

The Section II champs ended the season having played three straight overtime games, coming off double-overtime wins over Beekmantown and Schalmont, out of Schenectady. Holy Names had not lost since a 4-1 defeat against Schalmont back on Aug. 30.

HP coach and Rome Free Academy graduate Olney said it was an emotion-packed game.

“There was catty going on both ways, but I think the refs tried to do a good job with just keeping it maintained,” he said. “I just told my girls to play your game, and don’t lose focus of our goal of winning the game.”

The key to victory, Olney said, was winning the battle at midfield.

“We felt in this game, if we could win the midfield, we’d win the game. And that was our focus,” said Olney. “I’m just so proud of these girls. I thought that the game was an even matchup skill-wise, and I told them heart and hustle would win this game, and that was something that we just said before we went out every time: Heart and hustle will win this game.”

HP appeared to have the edge in play through much of the opening half, but Holy Names got on the scoreboard first when eighth-grade midfielder Riley Taylor found the top left corner of the net after a crossing pass into traffic from the right corner by junior forward Ava Panto at the 34-minute mark.

The Golden Knights drew even when Johnson took a throw-in and dribbled in on Holy Name senior goalie Kathleen Harris, tapping the ball into the bottom right corner at the 53-minute mark.

But Holy Names answered right back, with Section II scoring leader Panto drawing out Roberts on a breakaway and connecting for her 38th goal of the season a little over a minute later to make it 2-1.

HP evened it up at 2-2 at the 62-minute mark when Rachon calmly stepped up and scored on a penalty kick after a Holy Names player knocked down senior HP midfielder Sarah Storsberg in front of the goal as she battled for the ball off a corner kick.

That set the stage for the dramatic finish, with Roberts turning away a late breakaway chance by Taylor in the last five minutes of regulation before Lupia-Eannace ended it midway through the first sudden death session after two scoreless 10-minute overtime periods.

Lupia-Eannace said the Golden Knights didn’t panic after falling behind twice in the game. “It just got us more pumped,” she said. “We were just ready to win.”

And how does it feel to be going to the state final four? “Amazing. We’re making Holland Patent history,” she said. “I really can’t even put it in words.”

Olney said the Golden Knights have as good a chance as anybody to come home with the title.

“It’s anyone’s game,” he said, “We’re going to bring everything that we’ve got, and after we won our first section title this season, we’re looking to now win our first state title. So that’s our new goal, and we’re going to go to Cortland with high hopes, and we’re gonna have some fun and play some good soccer.”

Allegany-Limestone, 17-2, has won 14 straight games and is coming off a 1-0 state regional win over Palmyra-Macedon. The other semifinal matches Section IV champ Chenango Forks and Section VIII champion Wheatley at 10.a.m. next Saturday at Cortland High. The final is 10 a.m. Sunday at the same site.