Vestal comes up golden in second half of STAC soccer final
Call it a sweet repeat for the fellas from Vestal, who retained Southern Tier Athletic Conference soccer supremacy by avenging a season-opening setback.
Sophomore Mark Pradun provided the final goal with 15:57 remaining Tuesday night at Dick Hoover Stadium, pushing the Golden Bears past Elmira, 3-2.
Pradun accepted a feed ahead from Dan Mansfield and, mano-a-mano with Express goalkeeper Nate Burrows, popped one in to break the second tie on a chilly evening.
Mateo Lata and Mansfield also provided goals for the Bears, who’d not forgotten many details from a 3-2 season-opening loss to Elmira and denied the guests their first conference title.
Elmira, 2-0 semifinal winner over Oneonta, squared the match at 2 when Luke Baldwin converted a penalty boot awarded following boys being boys in the box with 21:01 to play.
Burrows, by the way, turned in one fine evening— and never mind the three goals permitted. This young man is a superior athlete, as repeated quick-twitch reactions to quality Vestal opportunities confirmed. Oh, and it would appear Nate can rise from synthetic turf with the best of them, and fearlessly at that.
Vestal, obviously frustrated here and there, was blanked through 50-plus minutes until counter-attacking off a thwarted Express corner kick.
Joe Gashinsky gained control and served one head for Lata, who caught a break when Elmira’s attempt to clear went awry and proceeded to carry on and launch a shot while advancing outside the left post. Wasn’t a ton of mustard on the shot— but the result was meaningful and necessary for Vestal to pull even at 1 with 29:15 to play.
The Bears went ahead a bit under five minutes later, Mansfield doing the honors from tight range.
“It was a ball lofted in the air,” Mansfield said. “It was coming back out and I headed it down. I didn’t know the goalie was out but he was out and it bounced up and over.”
Burrows hastily retreated to head off the goal, only to watch the ball slowly and anguishingly cross the line and settle into the back of the net.
Clearly, Vestal was sparked by the go-ahead goal. However …
With 21:01 remaining, Elmira was awarded a penalty kick. Baldwin went left against a goalkeeper guessing the other way and it was all-square at 2.
Then came the go-ahead strike by Pradun streaking down the middle and set up craftily by senior captain Mansfield. One-on-one with the keeper, Pradun made good for the difference-maker.
“I saw Dan and I saw the defense was trying to bring me offside so I had to run— it was the fastest run I ever made in my life,” said Pradun.
Thereafter, Vestal had a couple fine looks at insurance, only to have a leaping Burrows answer the call on one and the other venture a tad over the crossbar.
“They rallied each other,” Bears coach Dave Barr said of what was firmed up at halftime. “I let them talk and they talked, the captains and the coaches. We all put forth what we thought would work and it came through in the second half.”
He added, “That was great soccer. (Elmira coach Derek Hamilton) did a great job with these guys, they’re peaking right now. It was a great game, back and forth between quality teams. It was fun to watch.”
Ahead for Vestal will be the final of Section 4’s two-team Class A tournament, Oct. 27 against Maine-Endwell at the Wright National Fields in Oneonta.Elmira opened the season with that one-goal victory at Vestal — and led by three in that one — over an opponent that was unbeaten state champions in 2017.
“It feels really good. All of us trained really hard over the season after we lost and we wanted revenge against Elmira,” Pradun said.
And from Mansfield: “We didn’t come out very well, sloppy and just getting adjusted to the intensity of the game. At halftime, we decided that we really needed to pick it up and play like we usually do.”