Devils rally to win boy's sectional title
By John Bernhardt
For the Margaretville boys’ basketball team to roll this winter, junior Matt VanValkenburg will need to become a presence around the basket. VanValkenburg demonstrated the positioning and jockeying of an inside hoops star, with all the banging and bumping that it entails, in front of the nets down the stretch in Saturday’s Section IV, Class D soccer championship game against Charlotte Valley/Davenport in Oneonta.
Two times, with his team trailing by a goal and time melting off the clock, VanValkenburg did whatever it took to wedge his frame between, and then soar over, a throng of maroon and white jerseys to head Roberto Sarabia corner kicks into the goal. Then in the second of two overtimes, VanValkenburg fielded a Cooper Reither pass, carried the ball down the middle of the field, and delivered a sudden-victory, 3-2, championship winning score. The VanValkenburg hat trick helped lift Margaretville to their ninth Section IV, boys Class D soccer crown and their first since post-season title since 2009.
“The pace of the game was starting to slow down, was starting to come towards us, because throughout the game we were booming the ball and falling into their style of play,” explained VanValkenburg when describing his winning strike.
“We want to string passes together. Finally, Cooper Reither just won a ball out of the air and settled it. Kyle Short started a corner run, and I checked to the middle. Cooper picked his head up, hit me, and I was one-on-one. There was a defender coming at me. I touched it by him and put it in the corner.”
The game may have slowed down for the winning scoring sequence, but it was nothing but combustible energy over the final minutes of regulation time. The Wildcats started the offensive chaos by nailing the game’s first goal with 15:27 to play. The Davenport goal was a family affair with Cody Wamsley firing a shot from just inside the left hand corner of the box from the 18. Margaretville goalie Marvin Morales stretched out along the ground attempting to deflect the ball away, but the ball snuck inches past his outstretched arms, eventually caroming off the far pole. Cody’s cousin, Kyle Wamsley, shot in from behind, connecting for the game’s first score.
Four minutes later, Victor Mendoza won the ball in the middle of the field to initiate a chain of events that allowed Margaretville to knot the score at one. Sarabia was tripped up after settling a Medoza pass just outside the box for a direct kick. Facing a wall of maroon stretching at least six guys wide, Sarabia blasted a hard strike that deflected off a Wildcat defender’s shoulder and over the end line giving Margaretville a corner kick.
Sarabia lofted a high curling cross, with VanValkenburg leaping over a mob of players from both teams to head the ball past Davenport goalie Chris Kopf to tie the score.
A roller coaster emotional ride found the Blue Devils mood swinging on a downward track on the next Wildcat possession. A Margaretville infraction provided the Wildcats a direct kick some 40 yards away from the goal. Kyle Moorby lifted a high ball into the center of the box with Paul Clark finding enough space to skid a shot along the ground with his right foot for Davenport’s second score.
From there Margaretville staged two battles, one against Davenport, the other against the clock. The third-seeded Wildcats retreated into a prevent defense of sorts trying to preserve their lead and take home the title. With every precious second that passed, the tension mounted.
Enter the game’s unsung hero, Margaretville midfielder Cooper Reither. Two times over that four minutes span, Reither went one-on-one battling a Davenport defender down the right-hand side of the field. Both times Reither hesitated over the ball enough to sidestep to the inside and fire shots at the goal. His second shot, intended to tuck just under the crossbar, was pushed over top of the goal by Kopf, setting up the game’s second tying corner.
Up for grabs
Recognizing that Kopf had a tendency to charge forward when a corner kick was moving forward in the air, Sarabia, attempted to push his cross a bit deeper toward the outer pole. Kopf and a Margaretville player skied high, with the ball popping away from both with VanValkenburg streaking and leaping high to tie things up again, this time at two with 5:56 remained in regulation time.
With both teams understanding a single miscue might see their championship hopes melt away, the overtime periods were tame compared to the ending of regulation play. Margaretville’s Sam Gil took the only shot for both teams during the first 10-minute overtime period.
Third time’s a charm
VanValkenburg’s third goal was the lone shot of the second overtime, the winning strike coming 2:53 into the second extra frame. Once again, it was Reither playing the role of the set-up man.
The Blue Devils reached the championship round by upending another Delaware League foe, Gilboa, 4-0, in Oneonta on Wednesday. Sarabia broke a scoreless tie with 1:26 left before halftime tracking a through pass, advancing the ball 15 yards and ripping a shot just inside the left pole.
Building a lead
A Sarabia cross from the right corner found Kyle Short on the far side of the goal box, and Short skidded a shot against the grain for the Blue Devils’ second score at 31:31 of the second half.
Sarabia was at it again with 10:00 minutes to play, his corner kick stopped by a lunging Wildcat goalie, Phil Berger, with Reither zipping in to clean up the rebound for a score.
The Blue Devils used a corner kick again for the game’s final tally. Colby Russon lifted a curling kick that cleared the goal face. Sam Gill raced forward and banged a shot with Berger moving quickly trying to deflect the ball away. As he has so many times this season, VanValkenberg was there to head the ball home.
Saturday, the Blue Devils will attempt to add to an historic season by doing something no other boys’ soccer team has managed, winning a state quarterfinal game. Margaretville will face Section III champion, Watertown IHC at Liverpool High School in Liverpool (near Syracuse).