Raiders, Express Play to Second Tie of Season
Andrew Legare, email@example.com @SGAndrewLegare
Elmira remained unbeaten this season in boys soccer, though for the second time this season the Express couldn't find a way to beat Horseheads.
The teams played to a 0-0 tie Tuesday afternoon on the artificial turf at Ernie Davis Academy's Marty Harrigan Athletic Field. Earlier this season, they finished in a 1-1 tie on Horseheads' grass field.
Elmira, the leader in the Southern Tier Athletic Conference West Division, is now 8-0-3, with the other tie coming against defending division champion Ithaca. Horseheads' record stands at 3-2-3.
The goalies had a lot to do with the dual shutouts. Horseheads keeper Brendan O'Brien made five saves. Nate Burrows had six saves for Elmira.
Both teams had chances
Elmira had the edge in quality scoring opportunities in the first half, including hitting the crossbar on a shot.
"I thought we were really good in the first half, created a lot of chances," Express coach Derek Hamilton said. "We were a little unlucky not to get one. We had some cramping up in the second half, some fatigue. I thought Horseheads came back and played a much better second half than they did in the first half and equalized that mindset on the field."
Horseheads' top chance of the second half came from Riley Schwab, who struck the crossbar early in the half, setting off a scramble in front of Elmira's net that ended with Schwab sending a soft bicycle kick into the arms of Burrows.
The second 10-minute overtime session ended just after Carter McCreary's free kick from 30 yards away struck the football goal post just above the crossbar. Boys soccer uses a golden-goal format, with penalty-kick shootouts used only in postseason play.
"I’d say after the first 20 minutes of the first half, I thought we played excellent," Horseheads coach Mark Mucci said. "We had the ball down in their end, we had a couple of quality opportunities in the second half. They did too. They’re a great team, but we had the bar down (shot) that didn’t go in in the second half."
Elmira shut out for first time
Horseheads was the first team this season to shut out the Express, which is ranked third in the state in Class AA by the New York State Sportswriters Association. Elmira entered the game with 24 goals, including 16 from all-state junior forward Noah Sperduto.
Mucci said his players did a nice job preventing Sperduto and Luke Baldwin from doing damage Tuesday.
"We just try to play good, solid team defense," Mucci said. "We make sure we double down when we have the opportunities. We kept good shape today. We always made sure we weren’t flat and we had a good stagger and they had no free runs through our line and no free shots. … Just overall great team defense from the forwards all the way to my back line and my keeper. Great team effort. Very proud of these guys. I’ll take the 0-0 draw."
The Blue Raiders did a good job preventing Sperduto from finding space to unleash his big shot. They also denied him any breakaway chances, with Sperduto just offside on one potential such chance.
"They’ve played pretty defensive this year, making sure there’s numbers behind the ball to neutralize Noah and a lot of his touches were farther away from the goal," Hamilton said.
The turf factor
Horseheads is the lone STAC West team that still plays home games on natural grass, which can lead to a period of adjustment for road games. That was the case again Tuesday, though Mucci cited an early scoring chance as one of the best of the day.
"We’re always a little slow to get rolling on turf and kind of the same thing tonight," Mucci said. "Actually, we got out of the gate quick. I thought we were going to score in the first minute. We had a good opportunity where we broke through and Sal Evola fed Riley and we almost scored a minute into the game. We just missed it. But usually we’ve got a little catch-up on the turf, getting used to the play."
Raiders lose key player
With just under 29 minutes to play in the second half, Horseheads senior captain Connor Thorpe was struck by a teammate's cleat during a scramble in front of the Blue Raiders' goal. Blood was gushing from near his eye and the game was quickly stopped as Elmira athletic trainer Rory Fawcett ran onto the field to treat Thorpe. She continued treatment on the sideline before Thorpe left the school to be checked at an area hospital.
Mucci, who was unsure just after the game which hospital Thorpe went to for treatment, said the senior had a cut near the orbital bone of his eye.
The bigger picture
With Ithaca and Corning also playing to a 0-0 tie later Tuesday, Elmira maintained its six-point lead on Ithaca in the division standings. Teams receive three points in the standings for a win and one point for a tie. The Express has three regular-season games left and still boasts an unbeaten record.
"That's the positive I gave the kids after the game," Hamilton said. "I said, 'Listen, we're still undefeated and they can't take that away from us.' (Horseheads) is a team we might see in sectionals. We've just got to continue to improve and make sure we're playing our best soccer when we get to that point."
Horseheads is still trying to play its way into sectionals. To qualify, teams must have a .400 overall winning percentage or a .500 percentage against teams in their own class. The three ties don't factor into the percentage, so Horseheads' currently has a .600 winning percentage with six games to play. The Blue Raiders are 1-1-3 against Class AA opponents.
Horseheads is home against Ithaca at 5 p.m. Thursday. Elmira is also home Thursday, with the start time against Maine-Endwell at 4:30 p.m. at EDA.