Bobcats Defeat Vestal in the Class A Regional Final

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Matt Berger of Byram Hills chases after the ball in Saturday's 2-1 Bobcat victory over Vestal in the regional final.
Matt Berger of Byram Hills chases after the ball in Saturday’s
2-1 Bobcat victory over Vestal in the regional final.

By Monica D’Ippolito
Byram Hills came out Saturday afternoon like a team that had won 12 straight games – firing on all cylinders — but for a while the score did not reflect the play on the field as Bobcat scoring chances wound up caroming off of the post instead of finding the net.
But, as sports fans know, ball don’t lie.
The Bobcats (17-5) eventually put away two goals, just enough to earn a 2-1 victory over Section 4’s Vestal (14-4-1) in the Class A regional final at Arlington High School.
“I just didn’t feel like karma was with us,” Bobcats coach Matt Allen said following his surging team’s 13th consecutive win. “But I told them at half, ‘You know I’d rather hit three more posts and one more goal.’ I said two goals was going to do it, and sometimes I prognosticate correctly, I guess.”
Just four minutes in, Byram Hills’ Ryan Starker played a beautiful ball over the top, which gave Ben Weinstein a one-on-one with keeper Tyler Elliot. Elliot came rushing out and tipped the shot, deflecting it off the far post. Then shortly after, Weinstein threw a ball in toward the top of the box, which was brilliantly chested down to Bennett Kramer, who hit the ball off the volley. But his shot slammed against the front post.
It took until the 17th minute for the Bobcats to finally find the back of the net. Indra Neil Dan took a throw-in along the far sideline and heaved it toward the middle of the box. Starker had the initial header off the throw, but it was Matt Berger who found the rebound and buried it, giving the Bobcats the much-deserved 1-0 lead.
Much of Byram Hills’ offense was the result of its midfielders’ ability in controlling the ball and distributing well to its strikers, which kept constant pressure on the Golden Bears’ back line.
“I think our midfield really controlled the play and when they got the ball they really played it behind the defense and got our forwards going,” Kramer said. “Our team strength is speed, so getting behind the defense was a big one – (Brandon) Drossman, Berger, Weinstein, myself, we all just used our speed to our advantage and took it to their center and outside backs.”
Kramer nearly extended the lead 10 minutes later, but his shot just outside of the six-yard box slammed against the crossbar and was then cleared away.
“We talked about it at half and the theme for the second half was to finish our chances,” Kramer said about the Bobcats’ precarious 1-0 lead at intrmission. “Yes, it was a little frustrating at times. But we stuck with it, we played hard, and that’s why we won the game.”
Vestal’s most dangerous offensive player was Connor McKnight. Byram Hills did well in containing the senior most of the match, but McKnight took advantage of the one opportunity he got. After earning a corner by using his speed and footwork down the Bobcats’ end-line, his corner kick found teammate Brian Clark, who knocked in the game-tying goal from his position at the far post.
“It definitely stinks having them tie it up at one,” admitted Kramer. “We thought we were dominating play, but as soon as they scored we kind of just went into a little huddle and said, ‘Look guys, we’ve been here before, relax. We’re going to score another goal and we’re fine.’”
The senior’s words proved prophetic 10 minutes later when Weinstein’s long throw along the near sideline was flicked on to Cole Tannor, who headed the ball over the outstretched hand of Elliot for what turned out to be the game-winning goal.
“Ben Weinstein threw it in, I couldn’t see who headed it on, and I saw the ball, knew I had to jump high for it,” Tannor recollected. “I was able to flick it over the goalie, saw it go into the back of the net and it was just crazy.”
Vestal desperately tried putting in the equalizer, but the Bobcats’ defensive unit did well to subdue McKnight and limited the Golden Bears’ chances.
“We’re confident Payton (Levine), Ross (Weinfeld), Yianni (Lambos) – all great defenders — we knew we would shut (McKnight) down and he didn’t even get any shots on goal,” said Tannor. “So we were happy with that.”
Minutes before the final whistle blew, keeper Matt Groll stepped up big for the Bobcats, aggressively coming out on numerous dangerous crosses and long balls and punching them out of harm’s way. Groll finished with five saves on the day.
“He played pretty tentative after giving up that first goal and I think it made him nervous a little bit,” Allen said of his young goalie. “He got a punch-out late with about 10 minutes to go and built up some confidence. I mean, he’s only a sophomore, but he played big in the last five minutes and that’s all we ask for.”
The Bobcats’ next match in the state tournament will pit them against Section 5’s Greece Athena on Saturday at Middletown High School. Byram captured the state title in 2007 and is now looking for the second in the program’s history.
“I’m pumped,” said Tannor. “It’s crazy. We knew we could get here and now we’re here. There are two games left, everyone’s pumped, and we’re ready to win it.”
“Well, there’s only four teams left, so we got a 25 percent chance of going forward,” added Allen. “So as far as I’m concerned, we got one game next – the semifinals – regardless of what it is and I like our chances just as much as anyone else. I know there’s going to be some tough opponents, but we’re fighting and, again, we were 5-5 at one point and to say we are going to go to state semis is remarkable.”

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