By PAUL GOTHAM
Sean Hopkins spent part of his Monday morning arranging practice times and locations for the week ahead as the Pittsford Sutherland boys’ soccer team prepared for their NYS Class A semi-final this upcoming Saturday. With Sutherland punching a ticket to the final four over the recent weekend, Hopkins and his Knights would need to find a grass field alternative to the playing surface of their home turf.
That Hopkins and Sutherland are still playing seemed unlikely at best little more than a month ago. On October 6th, Sutherland fell 4-0 to division rival Brighton in a game that wasn’t even that close. With a second straight setback and second straight shutout, Sutherland’s record stood at 6-6-1. A four-game win streak leading up to the skid seemed a distant memory.
“That might have been a little bit of a wake up call,” Hopkins said during practice this past Tuesday. “We were all like ‘okay, we’ve played Brighton twice, and they manhandled both times. If we want any chance of doing anything this season, we got to get it together.’”
Since then, the Knights have won seven of eight and stand on the edge of program history.
“We just picked ourselves up,” senior sweeper Ryan Morabito said of the loss to Brighton. “We knew that was just a fluke. It’s just how bad we all want it; how bad we want to stay together as a team.”
The Knights, which opened the season with two wins in their first six games are now two wins from the program’s first state title this century.
“I didn’t even think we could win sectionals,” senior stopper Will Graupman said. “I knew we could get to sectional finals, but I didn’t think we could get past it and into the states.
“We just came together as a team. Everyone’s working super hard. We’ve gotten extremely close. Everyone really wants to win. No one wants to lose and have the season end.”
The bond among teammates is so firm that the Knights have knocked off three straight state-ranked teams to get to this point. They upset three-time Section V Class A2 champ and then No. 12 NYSSWA Honeoye Falls-Lima, 2-0 for the Knights first sectional title since 2007. Four days later they advanced on PK’s in a regional qualifier with then No. 6 Brockport. Last Saturday the Knights shut out No. 2 East Aurora to hand Blue Devils their first defeat of the season.
“We’ve all just figured it out,” Morabito noted. “We all know exactly how we play. We all work really well together. It’s a lot of communication.”
The Knights (12-7-2) have allowed 25 goals this season – just two have occurred over five post-season contests. Of those, one tally was a second chance on a penalty shot. The other took a spectacular effort from Brockport’s Colby Wharram, who went airborne and tucked a heel flick under the crossbar to beat Knights’ keeper Alex Oleyourryk.
“Our back four have done just a great job,” Oleyourryk said referring to the Knights defensive effort against East Aurora’s leading scorer Bryce Schiltz who came into the game with 28 markers on the season. “I haven’t been getting that many touches on the ball. They’re stopping all the threats.”
The last time a Sutherland squad advanced this far was 1999. The Knights last state title came in 1985. Gregg Fitch coached those Knights. Scott Wilson netted three goals as the Knights (then 20-2-1) cruised past Somers (22-3) of Section I in the Class B final, 4-0.
“It’s crazy to think about that we haven’t even made it past the regional game in 18 years,” Graupman said. “We haven’t won states in 32 years. It’s crazy to think about it that if we win, we could be the first team in 32 years. The third team ever.”
Sutherland meets Vestal (IV) in Saturday’s first semifinal. A 1:45 p.m. kickoff is scheduled on the Middletown High School grass field. Vestal comes into the game with a record of (18-0-0).
Queensbury (II) with a record of 21-0-0 meets Garden City (IIX) with a record of 13-1-5 in the second semifinal.
“They have this little edge right now that they didn’t have early in the season,” Hopkins said. “They just really, really want it. They really want to keep playing together for another week and extend that season as long as we can.
“It’s kind of unexpected, but at the same time we always knew we had a shot,” Here we are. We’ll see what happens when we get down there. Everybody’s going to be good.”
“We’re winning out,” Morabito said. “We’re not taking a loss.”
Frozen Pond Can Wait
The success of Sutherland’s soccer team means that leading scorer John Mozrall has postponed his personal start of high school hockey season. With practices for the winter season starting this past Monday, Mozrall (18 goals/eight assists) was happy to still be on the pitch.
“For the final four, I think I can miss a few hockey practices,” Mozrall joked after Saturday’s win.