ROTTERDAM — On a familiar soccer field in a pressure-packed spot, goalkeeper Ryan Taylor found a way to get the job done, just like so many of his Schalmont boys’ soccer teammates had before.
His save last weekend during penalty kicks was certainly unusual, but aesthetics meant little given the moment. What mattered was how that save sent the Sabres to the Class B state final four.
“One of the best feelings I’ve had,” said Taylor, a sophomore. “Winning a regional championship in my hometown.”
Already, last Saturday was a pretty cool one for Taylor. When Schalmont took on Peru in last Saturday’s state quarterfinal at Plattsburgh High School, Taylor was patrolling the goal on the field he’d previously counted as his home field before transferring to Schalmont for this academic year. Taylor’s final save in PKs followed a Schalmont score from senior Jared Smith, allowing the Sabres to advance from a 2-2 tie with a 4-3 edge in PKs.
“Going back to Plattsburgh and having a bunch of my friends there to watch me, that was great,” Taylor said. “I’ll never forget that, and to be able to hold the plaque, that was amazing.”
The Sabres’ path to the state semifinals in Middletown has been that, amazing. They capped a four-game run through the Section II tournament by beating playoff nemesis Ichabod Crane 4-3 in overtime after falling behind 3-0. They outlasted Canton in an overtime regional semifinal 1-0. They overcame a 2-0 deficit to tie Peru and force overtime before advancing on penalty kicks.
“They never believe the game is over,” Schalmont head coach Vito Urbano said. “They have that mentality. It takes one play to spark the entire team.”
One big play by Taylor defused Peru, when he got a foot on Tanner Spear’s potential PK-tying drive.
“I watched the shooters’ hips. He was facing left and that gave me the inclination he’d go that way,” Taylor said. “I dove to my left and maybe he scuffed it because he went down the middle. I dragged my foot and got a piece of the ball. I got up and celebrated.”
“He came up big for us,” said Schalmont sophomore Ryan Edwards, who scored both regulation goals against Peru and provided one during penalty kicks. “We practice PKs. We’ve seen how good he is.”
Taylor stopped Peru’s first PK attempt as well as its last as Schalmont (18-1-3) extended its unbeaten streak to 21 contests and earned a state semifinal date with Westhill (Section III, 16-3-1) 11 a.m. Saturday at Middletown.
“If you win PKs, usually there’s a miss in there somewhere,” said Schalmont assistant Bob DiBella, who played goalkeeper in his playing days at Guilderland. “All of their shots were on goal. Two saves in a game like that is very special.”
“That was the last of many, many big saves he made that helped keep us alive,” Urbano said. “Ichabod Crane was up three and he kept it there with a great save. Against Canton he made three or four saves when we were scrambling to get our feet under us.”
Devin Renaud scored the OT goal against Canton, and the late-season freshman call-up also had two goals in the comeback against Ichabod Crane including the equalizer that forced OT. Junior Hamza Noor scored the OT goal against Ichabod Crane.
“If you’re going to win a championship, you have to have guys step up, including some you didn’t expect to step up,” Urbano said.
Schalmont has never won a state title, with its previous final four teams in 1984 and 2006 both losing in semifinal games. Schalmont’s last edition to get out of Section II, in 2015, beat Ogdensburgh Free Academy and then lost to Plattsburgh in the regionals.
“Our first goal was to win the Colonial Council,” Urbano said. “Once we did that, we had a four-game season to get the section title, and we got that. We looked at the regionals as a two-game tournament, and we were hoping we’d have enough in the tank to get by. We did. We found a way to win. Now this is the last tournament we’ll have. If we want to play a second game, we’ve got to take care of business in the first game.”
“We have to have every guy contributing for us to be successful,” Edwards said. “We have to play our game. Short passes. Move the ball. Play as a team.”
Westhill beat Oneonta 4-1 to reach the final four for the third straight year. Westhill lost to Center Moriches in the 2017 semifinals and reached the title game in 2016 before bowing to Hastings.
“They come from a tough section. They were the No. 3 seed and beat some big-name teams on the way here,” Urbano said. “They handled Oneonta 4-1, and it was 4-0 at one point. They’re playing like it’s their third time here.”
Briarcliff (Section I, 17-2-3) and East Aurora (Section VI, 20-0-1) meet in Saturday’s first semifinal at 8:30 a.m. Sunday’s championship game is set for 10:30 a.m.
The Queensbury boys’ team, plus girls’ teams from Bethlehem, Stillwater and Fort Ann, will also see state semifinal action Saturday. Stillwater was the 2017 state Class C runner-up.