MIDDLETOWN – Armed with its superior defense and a proven ability to pull out victories in sometimes stressful manners, the Westhill boys soccer team sought a New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class A championship last weekend in Middletown.
This was the first time the Warriors were in the state final four since it won it all in Class B in 2018. The intervening five years had seen three state titles won by Skaneateles and a 2020 tournament canceled during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now it was a six-class, three-day festival of soccer, which Westhill would help kick off Friday afternoon when it faced Section V’s Rochester Aquinas in the semifinal round.
Again, the Warriors depended on keeping the other side from getting on the board, which it did for more than a half – but the Little Irish made a late breakthrough, then held on to end Westhill’s state title dreams in a 1-0 decision.
Aquinas came to Middletown with an 18-0-2 record, its only blemishes draws against city rival McQuaid and Clarence, and boasted an attack as formidable as any Westhill had faced this season.
Having not allowed a goal in 18 of 19 games (including its entire post-season run), the Warriors set out with the exact same approach against the Irish, keeping the game scoreless.
As it went 0-0 into the second half, the two sides tried to pick up the pressure, but the Irish did a more successful job of it, keeping the Warriors from breaking out too much.
Then, in the 54th minute, Aquinas’ John Leary managed to put a shot past Charlie DeMore. He was only the third player all season to do so, joining Christian Brothers Academy’s Connor Morgia and Zach Walma, who had the goals in a 3-0 Brothers victory back on Oct. 10.
Though nearly half an hour of soccer remained, Westhill could not match what Aquinas produced, and any chance of a comeback was partially derailed by three red cards issued in the closing minutes that left the Warriors with eight players on the field at game’s end.
Aquinas would go on to win the state Class A title, defeating Byram Hills 3-2 in double overtime.
As for Westhill, replacing a tremendous senior class that includes DeMore, Owen Etoll, Luke Infanti, Hasan Altheblah, Benji McPeak, Josh Gratien and Mike Madigan will be difficult, but having stars like Eric Holstein, Jackson Goodness, Tim Cowin, Max Cowin and post-season hero Cal Petrone around for 2024 should mean another serious championship push.