THE NEWS
OBSERVATIONS FROM THE STATE PLAYOFFS BY AL FREEMAN SECTION VIII COORDINATOR
It's very simple. If you have not had the chance ,you want to get here. If you have, you very much want to get back. The experience of competing in the state championships is exhilarating. The weekend commences with the team introductions on Friday night at Oneonta high school and culminates with the medal ceremonies on Saturday and Sunday in the main area of the National Soccer Hall of Fame. Loser or winner--pride, the bonding and the memories of the experience are irreplaceable.
And the soccer...From Class D to Class AA, the skills on display of the the calber to cause onlooking college coaches to salivate. Four expertly maintained grass fields,side by side, host ten semi-final games on Saturday and five final games on Sunday. I have not witnessed a fiercer contest this season than the semi-final game between Brentwood and Baldwinsville in Class AA. Athleticism, awesome skills and clean physicality were the order of the day. Brentwood's lightning strikes vs. Baldwinsville's methodical buildup. The teams traded goals in regulation with a stiff northerly wind and a steady rain dictating territorial domination in both halves. In the first overtime, with the wind at their backs, Brentwood' Jose Lopez (who would score all four of Brentwood's championship goals), broke through with one minute remaining after Baldwinsvill'e's exceptional central midfielder beat three mud -soacked defenders down the left side and narrowly missed a "pill" wide right. With the hundreds of spectators anticipating a second overtime, a missed clear by the Baldwinsville's weary sweeper resulted in a tap in goal for Lopez. The victory pileup formed on one side while on the other side, the Baldwinsville players, who had left it all on the field, were consoling each other for a dream deferred. Moments later on the steps of the outer hall, they received closure and basked in the applause of their vocal fans as they were celebrated for their magnificent season.
Perhaps the most controversial sequence of the day trasnpired in the John Jay-Clarance matchup on the adjoining field. John Jay, down a goal with six minutes remaining, pulled their keeper and replaced him with a midfielder wearing a gold pinnie. The strategy worked initially when the faux-goalie set up a scoring chance. However, a minute later, the strategy backfired horribly as the keeper and his teammate collided at midfield, leaving #^6 from Clarence with a half-field speed dribble undefended. Situated behind the goal as the Clarence striker pounded the ball into the back of the net with a flourish, the triumphant look on his face inspired jealousy. The closest that I had gotten to that facial expression in recent memory was during my monthly poker game when my four nines bested a full house to grab the largest pot of the niight. Not quite as meaningfull.
On Sunday, Brentwood bested Clarence to complete their perfect 24-0 season and a #1 national ranking. Yet, the game of the day was in Class D, where Hamilton, down three goals to Chazy with eight minutes left, tallied three times in five minutes to tie and won 4-3 in overtime. At any other time, Chazy's lead would be safer than T-Bills in a bear market. But, this is the state championship and those rules don't apply.
The atmosphere of tension and anticipation are what gurantees that the yearly pilgrimage to Oneonta will result in the kind of memories that years later will have the participants gathering a a pub to toast each other, starting sentences with "Remember in the states when..."
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