CORTLAND — It was an awfully sweet victory for the Stillwater girls' soccer team, even without the cherry on top.
Paige Brinsko scored late in the first half on a free kick, and the Warriors fended off every good chance Unatego had in a 1-0 Class C state championship win Sunday morning at SUNY Cortland.
Stillwater became the first Section II girls' soccer team since Hoosick Falls in 2011-12 to claim consecutive state championships. Since losing in the 2017 state championship game, Stillwater put together a 43-0-3 mark in winning back-to-back crowns.
"I couldn't ask for any other way to leave this program than as a state champion," Stillwater senior Brooke Pickett said. "To win it last year was amazing. We wanted to come back this year and prove we were the real deal."
Pickett didn't score a goal in Sunday's final after the UAlbany-bound senior notched two goals in Saturday's 3-2 semifinal win over Marion to boost her career total to 208, and close to within three of the Section II record held by Queensbury graduate Brittany LaPlant.
"I don't even care," Pickett said of coming up shy of the record. "I am so happy right now. We won. We won."
"That says a lot about her personality," Stillwater coach Christine Ihnatolya said of Pickett, who reached 58 goals this fall with Saturday's late game-winner. "She just wants to win."
With a joint effort from front to back and some good fortune, that's just what the state's No. 1 team (21-0-2) did again.
"After last year, the goal was to keep winning until we can't win anymore," Stillwater senior Keelyn Peacock said.
Unatego (Section IV, 19-1-1) attacked the Stillwater cage inside the final minute, and, after the ball went by the right post by inches amid a scramble, the Warriors moved downfield. Soon after, they were celebrating another New York championship.
"We talked about [that] at the end of the day only one team is going to be the state Class C champion," said Ihnatolya, whose Warriors held the advantage in shots (22-9) and corner kicks (5-2). "We came way too far and worked way too hard to not come out on the winning end."
Brinsko scored her second goal in as many days with 3:13 left in the first half after Peacock was fouled.
"I was going to let Keelyn take it [free kick] because she got the call," Brinsko said. "She was hurting from turf burn and she said, 'You take it, and I'll use my head if I have to.'"
That wasn' t necessary. Brinsko set up near the left sideline about 25 yards away from the cage, and with a solid rip, tucked the ball into the high left corner.
"I was shooting for the upper-left corner and got it right in," the senior said with a wide smile.
"That goal was tremendous," Ihnatolya said. "She placed it perfectly."
Earlier on the first half, Stillwater freshman Kara Moran cleared the ball off the line to halt a solid Unatego threat.
"That could have changed the momentum right there," Ihnatolya said.
Pickett fired just wide early in the second half, and midway through, Teya Staie had a goal disallowed on an offsides call.
"In the second half, we came out a lot harder because we had a lot to lose," Pickett said.
Pickett scored three goals in last year's 5-0 state title-game win over Little Falls. Brinsko and Peacock had the other goals in that win. Stillwater had lost to Alleganey-Limestone 3-2 in the 2017 New York final.
"Sophomore year, that was devastating. There were probably three words spoken on the bus ride home in 2017," Pickett said. "This is so much better."
Pickett scored 52 goals as a junior when she was selected the state's top Class C player, and netted 49 goals as a sophomore when she was named to the all-state first team.
"She has been with me since eighth grade," Ihnatolya said of Pickett. "Every time I expected something from her, she exceeded those expectations. I am happy she is staying local so I can see her continue to play."