Golden goal puts Guilderland into state final four
The Enterprise — Jordan J. Michael
In a sweat: Senior Chris Connolly heads the soccer ball for Guilderland during the team’s 2-to-1 sudden-death overtime win over Baldwinsville last Saturday in the Class AA regional finals at Colonie. Connolly scored the game-winner, and the Dutchmen (16-4-0) play Fairport (18-0-2) this Saturday in the state semifinals at Middletown High School.
COLONIE — Fresh off a Section 2 title, the Guilderland soccer team is nowhere near finished with its season. The Dutch have struck gold, and the players seem to be performing at a higher level each time they step on the field.
Last Saturday, in the Class AA regional finals in Colonie, Guilderland faced Section 3’s Baldwinsville. The Bees were almost a mirror image of the Dutch — great vision, speed, toughness, and footwork — sharing similar red and white school colors.
Just as it had throughout sectionals, Guilderland scored first. The Dutchmen never lose when it gets the initial goal of a game.
Senior Connor O’Brien, who has been hitting fantastic free kicks for the majority of the 2013 season for the Dutch, bent a corner kick to the far post off his left foot. Chris Czekay, his back to the play, stuck his left leg out, feeding the ball back into the mix, and Connor Rubin kicked the ball into the goal for Guilderland’s 1-to-0 lead.
Since the Dutch never lose when scoring first, the team had to feel quite confident. Guilderland hasn’t given up many goals this year.
“We’re solid,” Dutch goalkeeper Kedrick Weeden said of the defense. “We have one of the best.”
Breaking through Guilderland’s defense can be as hard as seeing in the dark, but Baldwinsville would not give up. The Bees pushed and pushed, and finally got a goal with 15 minutes remaining in the second half. Braden Miles struck a nice shot that was saved by Weeden, but not caught, and Connor Ross put in the rebound.
Weeden hadn’t been tested much in the playoffs until this point. The Dutchmen hadn’t been to overtime all season, but the Bees were bringing it there.
Guilderland Head Coach Mike Kinnally told The Enterprise that, normally, Weeden handles a shot like that. “He made a save, but he knows he should have had that one,” said Kinnally. “He’s played well all year, and, luckily, there’s an eraser for him. We came back; one mistake doesn’t make a season, and we bailed him out. We win and lose as a team.”
Weeden said his mood dropped, “tenfold,” after Baldwinsville tied up the game. He was angry, he said. “There was a guy in front of me who just jumped, so I couldn’t see the shot until the last second. I threw my hands up, and then no one was marked.”
A spot in the state semifinals would be golden for one team, and instant death for the other.
The last time Guilderland made it this far, in 2008, Baldwinsville ended the Dutch’s season. Kinnally downplayed getting retribution last Saturday, but senior Kledis Cappollari was sure his coach would get a good feeling from beating the Bees.
“We wanted revenge from that, even though it wasn’t us back then,” Cappollari said.
It took Guilderland only four minutes to end the game, and it came off another set piece from O’Brien. He launched his kick into a mess of players near Baldwinsville’s goal line, and Chris Connolly, the epitome of the Dutch’s strength and attitude in the midfield, knocked the ball into the goal.
Although a voice over the loudspeaker had told fans to stay off the field before overtime, the Red Sea, complete with two huge flags — one American and one with the school’s logo — rejoiced on the field with the Dutchmen players.
“Further than we imagined”
Guilderland’s (16-4-0) ticket for the state semifinals in Middletown is punched, and the team will play Fairport (18-0-2) this Saturday at 8:45 a.m. The Dutch last reached this stage in 1996, losing in the semifinals, 1 to 0, to Herricks of Long Island; Guilderland won a state championship in 1989.
“This is farther than we imagined,” said O’Brien after last Saturday’s victory, out of breath. “It feels so good to be going to Middletown.”
As Guilderland lined up to shake the hands of the Baldwinsville players, O’Brien yelled out, “I want to play on Saturday,” as he and his teammates shared smiles and hugs.
“It feels good for these guys to go to the final four, and it’s just ironic that we beat them [Baldwinsville], they got us last time,” Kinnally said. “They’re a great team, but seeing how happy my boys are, nothing could be better than that.”
Weeden said it amazes him how good his team has become. “It’s the greatest feeling I’ve ever had,” he said of Connolly’s overtime goal. “Everything keeps getting better; the chemistry keeps going up.”
Cappollari, one of the Dutch’s most outspoken players on the field at any given time, said that Guilderland underachieved in 2012. “We’ve all been together for a while, so, when this season started, we decided to really do something,” he said. “We ended up winning the Suburban [Council], something we hadn’t done since 2008, so we thought this was meant to be. We’re going to States to win it.”
Winning a Class AA state championship seems to be a feasible option for Guilderland. The team plays with a focused intensity that rarely drops off during a game.
“These guys have stood together, bonded really well, and worked really hard,” said Kinnally. “When we rotate players, our level [of play] doesn’t drop off. I’m proud of their perseverance, coming back when the game was tied up.”
Connor Rubin and Keagan Ciaschetti float out wide for the Dutch, and Kinnally also likes to drift whoever is playing striker, acting more like a winger. “Most people can’t handle our guys out wide,” he said. “Sometimes, we try to play central, and we’re not successful.”
Always a threat to get near the opposing goal, Cappollari likes to take defenders to the end line or the corners, which creates scoring opportunities for Guilderland.
“That’s what we want to do, get the ball in or get some sort of rebound,” said Cappollari, a senior. “We’re pretty sick on corner kicks, so we strive to get those like every 10 minutes.”
Usually, the Dutchmen get more corner kicks and free kicks than the opponent. Set pieces are Guilderland’s main weapon, and O’Brien dials the ball in almost every time.
“Jack [Hanlon] tells me where to put the ball, and I put it there,” said O’Brien. “That’s my specialty; they know I can put it where they want it, and then they capitalize.”
Weeden believes that the Dutch wouldn’t be where they are right now without O’Brien’s dense feet. “Honestly, his set pieces are golden,” he said. “He’s got tons of assists, and is accountable for like a third of our goals.”
“He puts them in the perfect place,” Cappollari added. “Coming from our club team [F.C. Dutchmen Premier], we work on that a lot. He gives us the perfect ball, and it’s a huge help.”
Kinnally does think that O’Brien’s placement is amazing, but credits the entire team for the overall scoring product. “They’re great, but we have to get the ball down there to even have them,” he said. “Last time I checked, someone has to put the ball in, too. No relationship goes one way and lasts very long.”
If Guilderland gets five set pieces, Cappollari said, then the team will score on one or two. “We’re good in the air,” he said.
Baldwinsville’s goal may have brought Guilderland down, but the Dutch are in the state semifinals because it refused to lose.
“I’ve been with these kids since I was 14, and ever since then, we talked about winning titles,” Cappollari said. “Now that we’re here, there’s nothing else we want to do but win.”