CORTLAND — The Lowville girls soccer team pushed top-seeded Westhill to the limit during Friday night’s Section 3 Class B final, only to be turned away in the final minute.
The second-seeded Red Raiders stayed with the Warriors for much of regulation, before Westhill broke through for the game’s only and deciding goal.
Senior Megan O’Reilly scored on a header in the 80th minute to lift the unbeaten Warriors to a 1-0 triumph over the second-seeded Red Raiders at SUNY Cortland to claim a second consecutive sectional crown.
“I think we came on stronger after halftime,” Lowville senior defender Haley Cole said. “They just had more chances than us. I think that we knew we could beat them, they just have such a strong team.”
Westhill (19-0-1), which is ranked fourth in the state in Class B, turned in another defensive gem by recording its 18th shutout of the season.
“I’m proud of my team for holding them off for that period of time,” Cole said. “We just didn’t have enough time to come back.”
Westhill senior defender Hannah Dorfman has led a defense that has yielded only three goals all season.
“It’s been such a ride,” she said. “Being my senior year, I’m so happy that we can do this and now we have another chance in states to look forward to.”
Even while his team was disappointed by the result, Lowville coach Leo Sammon wasn’t displeased with the effort.
“We played as well as we could,” Sammon said. “They’re a very, very good team. Obviously they controlled most of the game, but I thought our team defense was awesome, we stepped up and did a great job defensively.”
Yet the outcome was still in doubt, as Lowville (16-3-1) hung with Westhill throughout. Senior goalie Casssidy Buchman made six saves for the Red Raiders.
“Their goalie was very active,” O’Reilly said of Buchman. “She was fearless, she came out and got the ball. So it made it more difficult for us to play the ball down there.”
With the game scoreless and possibly headed to overtime, O’Reilly broke through with the deciding goal as she headed in a feed from freshman Sophia Caron into the Red Raiders’ net.
“Honestly, It’s kind of a blur to me right now,” O’Reilly said about her goal. “I just remember having the ball on my head after somebody behind me flipped it over to me.”
Lowville managed only one shot on goal for the entire game — which came in the second half as junior Caroline St. Croix broke through in close to the Westhill net, but was denied by senior goalie Bella Lavigne with 19 minutes remaining in regulation.
Just minutes earlier, the Red Raiders also came close as sophomore Sydney Brown curled a corner kick all the way to the other side of the net and St. Croix was there to play the ball, but her shot sailed wide through the goal area.
It was the Red Raiders’ only corner kick of the game, while Westhill totaled 13, including seven in the second half.
Westhill also dominated possession in the first half, with most of the play in Lowville’s defensive third of the field.
After the Warriors drilled a shot off the crossbar with 27 minutes left in the first half, one of their best chances came on a drive from Erica Gangemi, but Buchman was there to make the save in the final two minutes of the half.
Sophomore Hannah Freeman was named as the Class B tournament’s MVP from Lowville, while St. Croix garnered her team’s sportsmanship award in sectional play.
Buchman, in her first season starting in goal at the varsity level, was named as the tournament’s top goaltender.
“She did a good job, she came out and made some nice plays,” Sammon said. “I couldn’t see exactly what happened on that goal down there, but she did a nice job.”
Lowville competed in its first Section 3 final since 2014, when it was also defeated by Westhill.
“I think that was our best effort, we gave everything we possibly had, we left everything out there,” Sammon said. “I told them, ‘you can’t just hope to win, you’ve got to try and win’ — and we went out and played our hardest.”
After winning the Frontier League’s “B” Division title, the Red Raiders recorded three 1-0 victories to reach the title game, including a quarterfinal win over rival South Jefferson last Saturday and a semifinal victory over Clinton on Tuesday.
“Going into this season with this team I thought it was going to be a rebuilding year, because we lost a lot of girls from last year,” Cole said. “I’m just so proud of my team to be able to come this far, none of us ever expected it.”
Sammon added: “It’s been an unbelievable season. We had two starters back from last year’s team which went out with ACL injuries, so for them to turn it around and the way people stepped up was unbelievable. They really had each other’s backs.”