Bruised, frustrated and scoreless after 40 minutes Saturday, Schalmont gathered itself and put together a dominant second half to beat Plattsburgh, 3-0, in a girls’ Class B regional final.
The hard-earned result paid off in a return trip to the state semifinals for the 22-0-0 reigning state champs, where they will see Section V’s Greece-Odyssey in a 9:30 a.m. game Saturday at Cortland High School.
Schalmont beat the Leopards, 4-0, in last year’s state title game.
“We’ve never been in that position, we were all a little bit nervous, because we usually get a goal right off the rip,” said senior central midfielder Alexandra Cardinal, who scored a pair of late goals after Diana DiCocco broke the seal midway through the second half. “For us to not score quickly, I think it shook our nerves a little bit.”
“We always score. We were all panicking,” said junior midfielder Madeline Saccocio of the first 40 minutes.
“We didn’t get that goal in the first half, and we got too nervous,” said Schalmont coach Angelo Caschera. “They weren’t talking to each other.”
After absorbing some early pressure from the Lady Hornets, Schalmont began taking control 10 minutes into the game.
Rachael Gac ripped a shot that Plattsburgh goalkeeper Karlie Neale tipped over the bar, and moments later, the combination of Cardinal, Allie Gallo and DiCocco forced Neale to make two more stops.
Late in the half, Neale grabbed another good shot by Gac at the near post, and Hailee Matzold made a long run from her sweeper position that resulted in another chance.
But the Lady Sabres had nothing to show for all that work.
“We come off at halftime, got ourselves together and we talked,” said Cardinal. “We went back out there, and I think we were a totally different team the second half.”
Caschera made a pair of adjustments during the break. He moved Batzold to stopper, dropping Isabella Borini to sweeper. And he pushed Saccocio from a wide spot to the middle, switching with Ciara Vitallo.
The result was such a dominant second half that the Lady Hornets did not get a shot at goal, and rarely had possession in the Schalmont half of the field.
In addition to the tactical moves. Caschera worked on his players’ psyches.
“The halftime talk really helped,” Saccocio said. “Angelo said for everyone to calm down, and just play our game. We did that.
“He told us to settle down, and if we played our game, we had this,” said DiCocco, who spent much of the first half picking herself off the ground after either leaving her feet voluntarily trying to get a shot off, or being put there by the aggressive Plattsburgh defense.
“He said just to play our game, not to let them get in our heads,” Borini said. “If we just played our game, eventually we would get one.”
They did, and as usual, it was DiCocco who got the key goal, taking a pass from Saccocio that split two defenders and calmly chipping the rebound off her first saved shot over Neale with 20:47 to play.
“The second half we stepped it up,” said DiCocco. “We just needed the one goal. Once we got the goal, we calmed down.”
Saccocio was largely responsible for settling things. One of the smallest players on the field, the 11th-grader consistently beat Plattsburgh players to loose balls at midfield, and often beat them in the air.
“Madeline was amazing,” DiCocco. “It seemed like she won every ball.”
“I switched Madeline from outside to the middle and it worked. She went wild,” said Caschera. “That’s what you have to do. You have to stop their midfield, so you can attack. And she found people after she won the ball.”
“I like middle better,” said Saccocio, who played primarily in the middle last season. “I knew their punts and goal kicks were short, and I knew where they were going, I made sure we won the ball.
“The second half, we took over and got a lot of opportunities. Finally, we got one in.”
DiCocco laid a pass of to Cardinal at the top of the box that resulted in a two-goal lead with 7:15 to play, then Cardinal and Gac worked a perfect 1-2 to close the scoring.
“That give and go with Rachael had to be one of the best plays we’ve ever done,” Cardinal said.
The Lady Sabres are excited to be going back to Cortland, but know there is still work to be done.
“We’re very excited,” Borini said. “Half of the goal is to get there, the other half is to win it again.”
“It’s going to be tough, but I’m so happy to get back there,” DiCocco said.
LADY DUTCH ADVANCE
Guilderland and Hoosick Falls also won their regional finals, and will join Schalmont in this weekend’s state final four.
The 16-3-1 Lady Dutch got an early goal from Angela Luizzi, and Emily Center converted a penalty kick early in the second half in beating Section III champ Liverpool, 2-1, in a Class AA game at Fulton High School.
Guilderland, which won its first sectional title by knocking off four-time champ Bethlehem, gets a 5 p.m. semifinal this Saturday at Cortland High against either Orchard Park (Section VI) of Webster-Thomas (Section V), who played Saturday night.
Hoosick Falls, a co-champ in 2011, rolled past Section VII champ AuSable Valley, 4-0, in a Class C regional final at Stillwater.
Jordyn Haynes had a goal and assist, and Liz Babson, Dana O’Malley and Allie Martin all added a goal as the 19-2-0 Panthers moved into a Saturday noon semifinal at Tompkins-Cortland CC.
RIDERS, PANTHERS WIN
Ichabod Crane (Class B) and Hoosick Falls (Class C) both won their boys’ regional finals in Plattsburgh, and will move on to the state final four in Middletown.
Ichabod Crane went to 20-0-1 with a 3-0 victory over Northeastern Clinton (Section VII) at Plattsburgh High School. The Riders’ win came after the Panthers knocked off Lake Placid, 1-0, on the same field.
Chris LaCroix scored off an Evan Phillips corner kick as the 17-5-0 Panthers won their fifth straight one-goal game in postseason.
Bethlehem (Class AA) and Troy (Class A) both lost their regional finals at SUNY-Morrisville.
The Eagles took an early lead on an Ethan Gunty goal, but gave up the tying goal in the second half and lost to Utica Proctor (Section III) in sudden death of the penalty-kick tiebreaker to finish 17-0-3.
Troy, the first Big 10 team to win a Section II boys’ title, also saw a 1-0 lead get away, losing to Fowler (Section III), 2-1. Brandon Dory had the Troy goal.