STILLWATER - The Oppenheim-Ephratah/St. Johnsville girls soccer team found the perfect accessories for the newly-formed school district's gym - the Section II Class D championship plaque.
Powered by a pair of goals from Rylie Smith and one from Jessi Hagadorn, the top-seeded Lady Wolves defeated second-seeded Fort Ann 3-1 Wednesday at Stillwater High School to claim to advance to regional play in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association championship tournament.
"I hope they understand how important this is for both communities," OESJ coach Zale Benton said. "These kids had done a great job putting it all together and the school has done a great job pulling together for them."
The Oppenheim-Ephratah/St. Johnsville girls soccer team poses with its plaque after winning the Section II Class D championship game against Fort Ann at Stillwater High School on Wednesday. (The Leader-Herald/James A. Ellis)
OESJ will face Section IX champion Eldred in regional play at 3 p.m. Saturday at Middletown High School.
"We haven't been there in a long time and are looking forward to going back. We are going to work hard the next couple of days and get prepared for what is next."
Benton coached the St. Johnsville Lady Saints to the New York State Class D championship in 2000.
SECTION II GIRLS SOCCER
Class AA Championship
Niskayuna 2, Saratoga Springs 0
Class C Championship
Canajoharie 3, Waterford 0
Class D Championship
Oppenheim-Ephratah/St. Johnsville 3, Fort Ann 1
Fort Ann opened the championship match on the attack and earned a corner kick less than three minutes into the match, however the Lady Wolves began finding the rhythm of their game to gain control.
The pressure resulted in a pair of corner kicks and a foul to set up a direct kick from 30 yards out that Smith drilled under the crossbar for a 1-0 lead at the 12:43 mark of the match.
The Cardinals knotted the score three minutes later when a low shot by Kaleigh Foran snaked its way through the OESJ defense and into the goal with 24:31 left in the opening half.
The Lady Wolves went to work to break the tie and with 12:45 left in the opening half got the tie-breaker.
Tabea Salzmann gained control of the ball just outside the penalty area and slotted a pass to her left that Hagadorn drilled into the back of the net for a 2-1 halftime lead.
The OESJ defense withstood early pressure from the Cardinals in the second half.
Less than five minutes into the half, the Fort Ann strikers caught OESJ keeper Leann Clark out of position but the Lady Wolves defense scrambled to front the shooters allowing Clark to recover and dive on the ball to end the threat.
The Lady Wolves turned the momentum back to their side and narrowly missed extending their lead as Smith and Hagadorn both hit the crossbar with well-struck attempts.
Smith gave Oppenheim-Ephratah/St. Johnsville a two-goal cushion with 26:27 left to play.
Salzmann won a 50/50 ball deep in the Cardinals' defensive zone and dropped a pass to Smith who was unmarked at the top of the penalty area. Smith did not hit the crossbar this time, as the ball hit the back of the net for a 3-1 lead.
The Lady Wolves showed no signs of sitting back and protecting the lead as they pushed forward, keeping the Cardinals in a defensive posture in the closing minutes to lock up the first sectional championship for the new school district.
For the match, OESJ outshot Fort Ann 13-5.
Clark collected four saves in goal for the Lady Wolves, while Caitlyn Sweenor made eight stops for the Cardinals who held a 5-4 edge in corner kicks.
Fort Ann finishes the season with an 11-3-0 record, while the Lady Wolves improve to 15-3-1.