November 7, 2013
Red Dragons reach title game
Williams’ gift goal nips Brockport, 1-0
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Dillon Johnson (right) of SUNY Cortland battles Dan Turchan of Brockport during Wednesday’s soccer semifinal game at Jets Field. Cortland advanced to the playoff finals with a 1-0 victory.
Matt Williams was as surprised as anyone to see the soccer ball suddenly headed in his direction.
All the junior reserve had to do in the waning moments of the opening half was slide this gift of a scoring opportunity into a vacant net to deliver the goal that would eventually carry SUNY Cortland into the conference championship game.
The Red Dragons took advantage of a decisive defensive gaffe to produce a 1-0 victory over invading Brockport in this SUNY Athletic Conference men’s semifinal playoff contest conducted at wind-chilled Jets Field on Wednesday afternoon.
A long ball that appeared harmless bouncing into the Brockport box was misplayed, enabling Cortland sophomore forward Dillon Johnson to provide a touch that found Williams all by his lonesome. With Golden Eagles keeper Casey Sullivan trapped out of position, Williams had no trouble finishing.
“In good games like that, that’s what it comes down to,” noted Cortland head coach Steve Axtell of the huge break that will enable his second-seeded Red Dragons (11-6-1) to host fourth-seed Plattsburgh (14-5-1) in Saturday’s 1 p.m. title game back at this same site.
“They kind of messed up and then Dillon just hit it right in the middle, right in front of me,” said Williams of the game-winner that arrived with 3:35 left in the opening stanza. “All I had to do was pass it right into the goal. It was the easiest goal of my life.”
After Williams’ third goal of the season, third-seed Brockport (11-2-5) still had plenty of time to recover. The Golden Eagles could not come up with the equalizer, however, despite finishing with a 14-12 shot edge and a 6-3 advantage in corner kicks taken.
Junior goalie Tim Beauvais earned his seventh shutout of the season by making a handful of saves, the best coming with 10 minutes to play. That’s when he punched away a header by Brockport senior Bobby Ross, who had moved up from his defensive post for the desperate visitors to receive a corner kick struck by teammate Matthew Roorda.
“WE PLAYED WITH a lot of patience and heart today,” said junior Darren McCormack, the talented Irishman who celebrated his 28th birthday by helping the Red Dragons control things at midfield.
“Heart and work rate is what won the game today,” added McCormack. “They’re a tough, tough team to play against. They tried to stop us playing, but when we got the ball down we were the superior team.”
Holding down the Golden Eagles and an attack featuring the 6-foot-4 presence of sophomore forward Peter DiLorenzo — who had 13 goals to his credit coming into the game — was the task Cortland performed to reach the title game for the first time since 2008.
“We never make it easy for ourselves, but we stuck tight. I can’t say enough about Wilson, Jack and Buff. They did a heck of a job,” said senior captain Ian Cusack, referring his defensive cohorts Alex Wilson, Jack Sumski and Joe Buffolino.
A sturdy 6-foot-4 himself, Cusack accepted the challenge of keeping DiLorenzo from doing damage.
“That was my mission for the game, to mark that kid. He’s going to be a heck of player. He’s big and he did well, but we kept him under wraps,” said Cusack, as the best scoring chance by DiLorenzo came three minutes into the game when he headed a long throw-in by teammate Ross over the crossbar.
“Their physicality is their main strength. They’ve got four guys over six foot-three,” noted McCormack. “We basically defended as a unit, stayed patient and the minute we lost the ball we got back in our formation. We basically worked, worked, worked until the final whistle and that’s what won us the game.”
CORTLAND HAD SOME CHANCES to add to the lead, the best coming moments after Williams’ ice-breaker. With keeper Sullivan straying upfield, sophomore midfielder Robby Reiser nearly found the range with a 50-yard floater that ended up nestling into the side netting.
Brockport barely avoided giving up a second gift goal.
“Technically, put the ball on the ground and we’re a much better team,” said Coach Axtell after Cortland became only the second team to beat Brockport this season. The Golden Eagles had lost 2-1 at Geneseo in conference play, and Brockport and Cortland had played to a 1-1 overtime tie here back on Oct. 19.
“They’re very good in the air, though. That’s their game. They’re very direct,” added Axtell of Brockport. “They put 60 balls per game in your box and they hope for bounce-around goals. They’ve got a couple of tall kids who are good in the air, but we happened to be perfect today. We had great goal-keeping, our flow was great and that was the difference. We just didn’t make a mistake.”
Cortland has made few mistakes of late, having gone 8-1-1 over its last 10 outings including a 2-1 overtime win at Plattsburgh. The lone loss during this stretch came 1-0 to Buffalo State.
“Honestly, we just stick with our game plan,” is what Cusack cites as the reason for Cortland’s recent stretch of success.
“We dropped one to Buff State and we shouldn’t be dropping games to Buff State, but ever since we just picked up our game and are playing our game,” added Cusack. “I can’t speak highly enough about our coaching staff and what they’ve done for us so far. They’ve put us in the SUNYAC final and hopefully will get us a trophy.”
PLATTSBURGH WILL COME to town Saturday after beating top-seed host Oneonta 1-0 on a goal by Matt Hamilton in the 44th minute, coming on a shot which deflected off a defender before finding the net.
The Cardinals are perennial contenders who will be seeking an eighth conference title, a winning tradition the Red Dragons are trying to emulate. Cortland did win three consecutive SUNYAC titles from 2001-03 but has been to the finals just once since.
“They’re just starting to click, starting to believe,” said Coach Axtell of his team’s late-season surge.
“It’s hard to change the culture in a program in a day. Two years ago when I took over, they just didn’t have the belief they were winners,” continued Axtell, a former Red Dragons goalie. “It’s been a daily process with attention to detail, and in a professional atmosphere that creates that and instills their belief. Now they’re in a place where they enter every game feeling like they are the better team rather than just hoping they come away with it. That’s the difference.”
So Cortland fully believes they can be champions.
“I can’t wait,” said McCormack of playing for the title. “We’re going to prepare well, prepare hard and we’re going to give it our all.”
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