You don’t have an undefeated record at this point of the season without having a deep and talented team.
Bethlehem showed its talent and depth Monday night, beating Niskayuna, 2-0, to win the Section II Class AA boys’ soccer championship at Colonie High School. Senior midfielder Elliot Hiller scored his first goal of the season, and Liam Roohan added a goal in the second half as the Eagles won their second sectional since the creation of the AA classification in 2004, and ended a five-year run of postseason frustration.
The 17-0-2 Eagles advance to play Section III champion Utica Proctor. That game is scheduled for Saturday, at a site and time to be determined.
Hiller got the biggest goal of his career in the 25th minute, finishing a combination with Zach Stryker with a left-footed bullet that gave Niskayuna goalkeeper Taylor Teal no chance.
“Great goal. Probably one of the most clutch goals I’ve ever seen,” said Bethlehem senior forward Ethan Gunty. “We were being dominated, and then he hit that shot, and the momentum changed.”
“I just saw it and tried to hit it good,” said Hiller, whose primary job is to win and hold possession, then look for teammates. “A goal is a goal. I don’t want to focus my play on if I score or not. But it’s great to have it, and it was a boost for us.”
“He’s taken more than 15 shots like that this year,” said senior defender and co-captain Jeremy Shuman. “He was due.”
So were the Eagles.
Despite holding the No. 1 or No. 2 seed from the Suburban Council portion of the AA bracket the past four years, Bethlehem had failed to advance past the semis twice, and dropped out in the quarterfinals two other times before gaining their first title game since a 1-0 loss to Niskayuna in 2007.
“Last year, I wanted it so bad,” said Hiller. “This group, we’re a family. We always say it’s our family against their family. We finally did it, and it feels great.”
“I think we gained a lot of experience,” said Gunty. “We’ve played in the tournament before, and got out too early. We finished it off this time.”
“This is gigantic,” Shuman said. “It’s been five years coming. We needed this. We’ve been working towards this, we wanted it, and now we’ve got it.”
“They finished their chances and we didn’t,” said Niskayuna coach Joe Carosella. “We had our chances. We were in their box two or three times, and had better chances than they did.”
Brendan Griffiths had ripped a shot just over the crossbar minutes before Hiller struck. The Silver Warriors had a chance to take the lead in the closing seconds of the first half, but did not take advantage of a free kick.
Liam Roohan got the second goal, chesting a Gunty corner kick just across the goal line 5:56 in.
“Bethlehem had one or two good shots, and put one of them in. The second one, I’m not sure how it went in, but it wasn’t because it was a great shot,” said Carosella. “I don’t want to take anything away from them. They played very well. But I think if had finished the score would have been different. Sometimes, it doesn’t fall the way you want it to fall.
“We’re very proud of these guys. They played great all season. The seniors led us very well, and the young players contributed. “We know that not everybody can win. But we’re proud of the fact we got to this point.”
We’re going to come back next year, and maybe we can win it.”
Bethlehem posted its third shutout in as many playoff games this fall, and has allowed only seven goals all season, three over the last 15 games.
“Our team goal at the beginning of the year was to win a sectional championship,” said Gunty. “It’s been a team goal every year. We have lot of talented kids and a very solid bench. We had a lot of injuries during the year, and different kids stepped up.”
The boys’ Class B and C champions will play regional semifinals Wednesday at SUNY-Canton.
Class C winner Hoosick Falls will play Canton at 4, followed by Ichabod Crane’s Class B regional semi against Ogdensburg Free Academy. The winners advance to Saturday’s regional finals.
GIRLS PLAY TONIGHT
Due to a forecast of inclement weather, three girls’ Section II finals have been moved from Wednesday to today at Stillwater High School.
Fort Ann plays Loudonville Christian School at 3 in the Class D final, followed by Mechanicville against Hoosick Falls for the Class C title and Guilderland going against Bethlehem for the AA crown.
Hoosick Falls beat Mechanicville in four overtimes last fall en route to sharing the state title.
Bethlehem has won the last four Class AA titles. The fifth seed, they eliminated Shenendehowa in the quarterfinals before getting past top-seeded Niskayuna on penalty kicks in last Saturday’s semifinal round. The Lady Eagles have been in the large-school championship game 11 of the last 13 years.
This will be Guilderland’s first trip to the championship game.