If nothing else, a matchup between defensive giants brings with it a ton of exciting tension.
Because someone has to score, right? And as we watch the defenders shut down chance after chance, the question then becomes which offense will be the first to break through?
It took 38 minutes to find out in Wednesday’s Section V Class A boys soccer championship and it was No. 2 seed Pittsford Sutherland that did the breaking. And when the Knights scored a second goal early in the second half, it was all they needed to defeat No. 5 Churchville-Chili 2-0 and win the 2020 championship.
And yes, considering the havoc wreaked by the coronavirus pandemic this year, it was quite the relief.
“To be able to walk out of 2020 with a sectional title, we’re never going to forget that,” Sutherland coach Sean Hopkins said. “Because we’re always going to be talking about the pandemic of 2020 and we’re going say it was a great freakin’ year because we won a sectional title.”
The path here
Indeed, the road to the Section V Tournament, much less a regular season, was not smooth. The pandemic had already claimed the entire spring season of 2020 and the fall season was delayed by more than a month.
When schools finally got the green light to go, the path from there was more like a construction zone instead of a freeway. But even with a truncated season and plenty of obstacles, area athletes were content with any kind of season to play.
“It’s all we’ve talked about, this past two weeks,” said Hopkins. “How we never thought this season was even going to happen. Then you’re rolling along and you’re like please, let us get through the season and we somehow do.
“And then you get to sectionals and we’re like we don’t even know if we’re going to play the next sectional game.”
Even with that, the Knights of Sutherland found even more hurdles to clear once the tournament began. Leading scorer Dylan Kladstrup broke his foot in the sectional opener against Brockport and David Adeleke-Adedoyin suffered a concussion.
“The guys never got down,” said Hopkins. “They never looked at it like we couldn’t do this without them.”
Churchville-Chili coach John Mahoney noticed.
“Their team speed, I have never seen anything like it and the amazing thing with it is, they’re without two of their better players,” said Mahoney. “But they didn’t look like they were missing a beat.”
Sutherland breaks through
The defensive skill at both ends lived up to the hype early. Quality opportunities were next to nothing because of the quick and aggressive defenders who filled space and were strong on the ball.
Hopkins said Sutherland (13-1-1) wanted to work the outsides to find centering opportunities. At the same time, the real focus came in pressuring the ball at every area of the field.
It finally paid off with 1:13 left in the first half when junior Henry Walbaum got a solid boot on the ball for a shot that sailed in high and just under the crossbar.
It was also the realization of a fear for Mahoney.
“We were worried about their counter because as much as they’re a solid defensive team, they also move the ball around on offense and they press you and they press you and they press you,” he said. “And they caught us on a counter. But we played really well up until that point and I think that deflated us.”
Of course, a one-goal deficit certainly is manageable and Mahoney tried to remind his team of that at halftime.
“We were so close to halftime and that goal just kinda lifted their spirits and it dropped ours a little bit,” he said. “I saw that. I tried to adjust at halftime and talk to the guys and say hey, we’re in this.”
But the pressure returned in the second half for Pittsford, and so did the scoring. That resulted in the Knights carrying much of the play early and just over 12 minutes in, junior Will Field found enough room to center a pass at the top of the area and senior Jack Leahy put a head on the ball for a re-direct that made it a 2-0 game.
“You get that one goal you always feel like you’re going to let down,” said Leahy. “You pack it in and the other team starts to get up on you so that second goal kind of solidifies it. One goal is not enough.”
Bringing it home
With the way the Sutherland defense was playing, two goals was more than enough. The Saints (9-3-2) did generate some quality chances down the stretch, but the uphill climb for a rally was too steep.
“(Pittsford) came out after halftime and they really continued to press,” said Mahoney. “We got down two goals and we had to change shape a little bit … they had opportunities that were goal-scoring opportunities. We kept getting into their end and not creating enough of those quality chances.”
Considering 2020 was nearly the season that wasn’t, bringing the block home certainly is special. And if there were to be a silver lining to it all, protocols for the tournament this season meant that the higher seed hosted all the games instead of playing the championship game at a neutral site.
And that means the Sutherland championship was won on its home field.
“This is amazing,” said Leahy. “We never expected to make it here. We went from not sure if we were going to have a season to sectionals and then finally making it to the sectional finals.
“We were happy enough to play in it and coming out with a win is the best we could ask for … It totally brightens up 2020 for us. it’s just a great feeling.”