CORTLAND – All seemed to be going right for the Marcellus girls soccer team in the second half of Saturday’s New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class B semifinal at Cortland High School.
Once trailing Section V’s Haverling, the Mustangs had tied it and were pushing to get out in front, having easily weathered an early Rams goal to gradually assert its will.
Then came a scary injury, a long delay – and when it resumed, Marcellus was never quite the same, getting it to overtime, but ultimately falling in a 2-1 defeat when Keegan Smith scored on a free kick 8:49 into the extra period.
A full decade had passed since Marcellus was even in the state final four. And nearly 20 years now separated the Mustangs from those 2003 and 2004 state title teams.
Having coached those sides, Laurie Updike could count on her experience to tell her players what to expect, and what it would take to earn a state title, yet could not have foreseen the way it would play out against Haverling, the same side that edged Westhill 1-0 in the 2022 state semifinals.
Not even seven minutes had passed when the Rams earned a corner kick – and Smith, who would be a dominant force on the field all game, headed a perfect cross from Ella Yartym that goalie Olivia Smolen had no chance to stop.
It stayed 1-0 the rest of the half and deep into the second half, too, Haverling having at least one defender shadow 30-goal scorer Cece Powell to prevent her from getting any kind of space even when she received the ball.
Smith nearly doubled the margin with a shot off the post just before halftime, but as the second half wore on it was Marcellus picking up the pressure and Powell, with some room, just missing an equalizer when her shot in the 55th minute went off the post.
Three minutes later, freshman Lexie Fragnito got room 25 yards left of the net and rocketed a shot inside the top left corner, pulling the Mustangs even.
But with 14:25 to play, the whole game’s tenor changed.
Battling for possession, senior defender Evie Formoza was fouled – and the resulting head injury caused a delay of more than 20 minutes as she was cared to and left the field in an ambulance, ultimately released later in the day.
Stunned by this, the Mustangs tried to refocus and had some good chances late in regulation, none better than Fragnito putting a hard shot just over the net as the final seconds ticked away.
Once into OT, Haverling forced Marcellus into defending set pieces, none bigger than a handball that resulted in a free kick. From 35 yards out straight up the middle, Smith’s shot zipped into the net and the Rams had another trip to the state final – -where it would defeat Long Island’s Babylon 1-0 for the state championship as Smith got the game’s only goal.
Having finished at 18-4 overall, the Mustangs see a senior class that includes Smolen, Evie Formoza, Ella Formoza, Claire Card, Abby Bianchi, Janie Powell and Addy Moses graduate.
That still leaves for 2024 a talented group led by Fragnito and Cece Powell, not to mention Corrine Aldrich, Jadyn Baker, Drew Johnson, Allie Coombs, Grace Vitale and Marielle Kennedy, among others.