November 7, 2007


Gritty Purple Tigers ousted by PKs

Staff Writer
BROADALBIN — The team that wouldn’t die was finally dispatched Tuesday night, taking a state tournament-seasoned opponent to the limit and doing themselves, their school and their community proud in the process.
The Cortland High girls’ soccer team, playing their first-ever state tournament game four days after winning their initial Section 3 championship in a 4-0 domination of Whitesboro, fell to Class A powerhouse Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake. The Purple Tigers were beaten 4-2 in a penalty kick shootout at Broadalbin-Perth High’s Patriot Field after coming back twice for a 3-3 tie in regulation, then playing scoreless through two 10-minute overtimes and a pair of five-minute sudden-death sessions.
The game-winner for the Spartans, now 9-10-2 after an injury-plagued season, came on the last of their five penalty kicks and give them an insurmountable lead. Burnt Hills, as the team is commonly called, has been the state Class A runner-up the past two seasons after having won state championships in 2003 and 2004.
The final outcome ruined a pair of sterling comebacks by the Purple Tigers, who officially finished the season at 16-5-1. They trailed 2-0 at halftime before their top-scorer, senior forward Natalie Muka, scored twice in the opening 10 minutes of the second half to tie the game at 2-2.
Burnt Hills then scored what looked to be the game-winner with 6:12 left in regulation, but CHS junior midfielder Casey Marks, who had assisted on Muka’s first goal just 17 seconds into the second half, converted a long, bending kick just 49 seconds later to make it 3-3.
The Spartans carried the play in the first overtime session and Cortland took over for the rest of the mandated time, before it came down to penalty kicks.
“I told the girls at halftime that they couldn’t play scared, that they needed to play offense and be on the attack,” said Cortland coach Abbey Albright, who has now compiled a 32-9-2 record in her first two seasons as the Purple Tigers’ leader. “Right out of the gate they did just that, and set the tone for the rest of the game. They didn’t let up for the rest of the game.”
“Hats off to Cortland,” said Brian Bold, the coach of the Spartans. That number four (Muka) is one of the most talented players I’ve seen in my three years here. We get a two-goal lead just before halftime, then they get two and they’re back. Then we go up 3-2 late and figure that maybe we’ve got it — and they come back AGAIN.”
THE SPARTANS OPENED the scoring 18:11 into the first half. Junior back Julie Sampson ripped a high shot from 20 yards out on the right that squeezed between the bottom of the crossbar and the hands of leaping CHS sophomore goalkeeper Hannah Polanko-Baker, who started, Albright noted, in place of senior Katie Apley, who was ill.
In the final minute of the first half, Burnt Hills junior forward Chelsea Craig scored on a bouncing shot from 20 years out on the right side that went just inside the left post.
The Purple Tigers, especially Muka, who finished with a team-high 32 goals and 72 points on the season, took their coach’s halftime exhortations to heart. Marks found Muka on the left side for a shot from 15 yards out that beat Spartans goalie Teegan Kelly to halve the lead. Muka then tied the score with a run down the near left-wing side in which she evaded three Burnt Hills defenders before hitting the net high on the far side 9:29 into the second half.
“When we talked at halftime, we decided that we had nothing to lose, that we’d go big or go home,” Muka said. “We did what it took; it was amazing. On the game-tying goal, I just took it in, got focused and it turned out well. Casey ripped a shot to tie it again for us; that’s Casey for you.”
Tying the game energized the purple-clad Cortland squad, but it was Burnt Hills that scored next, senior midfielder Amber Goodrich corralling a free kick from the right side by sophomore midfielder Monica Wolf and scoring from the center of the field 10 yards out, high to the right side, with 6:12 left.
Marks, playing with an already-injured shoulder and having been in a violent first-half collision with Spartans’ freshman back Maria Malone that sent the latter to the sidelines, hit a shot from 20 yards out on the right side that found the top near corner just 29 seconds later to once again tie the game.
As noted, Cortland controlled most of the extra time, but neither team found the net, leading to the penalty kick shootout. All told, Burnt Hills had a 16-11 shot advantage in regulation and the overtimes, Polanko-Baker making six saves to Kelly’s three.
AS THE SHOOTOUT began, Polanko-Baker dove to her right to stop the first Burnt Hills shot, by sophomore midfielder Monica Wolf, but Kelly was equal to the task as Marks led off with a low shot to the right side that was turned away. Spartans junior forward Georgina Farrow then hit a rising shot to the right side before Muka missed to the left in the second round.
Then came four successful shots in a row. Burnt Hills freshman forward Maddie Gardiner scored on a shot that hit the bottom of the crossbar and went in before Cortland sophomore midfielder Elle DePerno scored low to the right side. Sophomore midfielder Nicole Collins then went high to the right to score for the Section 2 squad before CHS sophomore midfielder Alexis Keeney converted low to the left, making it 3-2 for Burnt Hills after four rounds.
That meant that the Spartans’ fifth and final shooter, senior utility player Judy Horan, could give her team an insurmountable lead and end the contest, and she did just that, with a rising shot to the right side.
“I tried to keep my mind completely blank, and did some reverse psychology, just staring at the goalie like they always stare at me,” Horan said. “I didn’t think of the times I’d missed, knew what I wanted to do and did it.”
“It’s a tough way to decide a match,” Bold said of the penalty-kick format. “But it was probably the only way. We kept going back and forth, and could have gone all night. Maybe we could have taken one player off for each team until someone scored.
“We’ve practiced penalty kicks for awhile now, our two goalkeepers facing shots from each player on the team at the end of practice. Sections 2 and 3 go at it nicely. It’s gotten better each of the last three years, against (Syracuse) CBA, Homer and now Cortland. That’s three different opponents, and we’re proud to have beaten each one.”
“It’s sad to have lost, but we can’t look at it like that,” said Muka. “We came very close, and give them credit. We all put our hearts into it.
“THIS WAS THE best season. We started out 6-0, had a little downfall and then picked things back up. We realized we had potential and that we had to put it to use, which we did. It was the best season of girls’ soccer that Cortland High has ever seen, and that speaks for itself.”
“It’s weird to think that we finished tied for third in our league (OHSL Freedom Division) — actually fourth because the team we tied with, Homer, beat us both times. The girls really brought it during sectionals and this game. There’s a lot of talent on this team, and the girls didn’t play for themselves, they played for each other.
“If someone had told me before the season that we’d do all this, I wouldn’t have doubted it. But we can’t get caught up in things until they take place. I will say, though, that the future looks good; we have a lot of girls back next season.”
Muka, defenders Caitlin Stevens, Bailey Reagan and Kaitlin Houck, midfielders Amanda Cheetham and Jackie Jacob, and keepers Apley and Taylor Hewes saw their scholastic soccer careers end Tuesday night.