CORTLAND, N.Y. -- The bus ride was silent during the long ride to Cortland. Center Moriches had heard about its opponent Marcellus -- how it had beaten teams by double digits, how it outscored opponents by over 100 goals in just 20 games, how its passing game was among the best in the state.
"I was very nervous," Catherine Nolan said. "But I had my head held high."
Latest HS sports stories
Saturday in the state Class B soccer semifinal in Cortland, the Red Devils held Marcellus to just one goal in 79 minutes of play. Nolan, a sophomore, glued together the defense and staved off stud forward Jada Sargeant. Megan Ricci made save after improbable save. It just wasn't enough against a team like that. Marcellus beat Center Moriches, 2-0.
"They were good," Ricci said simply, shrugging. "I think we all said, what competition could they possibly be playing? But in the back of our heads we're thinking, they're going to finish it. It's going to be hard."
The Mustangs (20-1) scored on a clever set play with a little over 24 minutes left and added another with about a minute left to advance to the state final. The Red Devils (13-6), who graduate 12 seniors, went toe-to-toe for the first half and at times seemed to dominate on the strength of their conditioning and speed. Nolan's free kick from 20 yards nearly gave them the lead in the 28th minute, but the shot was slapped away by Maggie Fiacchi.
"We definitely shut them down a little bit," Nolan said. "But I don't know why . We have to work on that."
Then, the psychological backbreaker: With 24:17 left in the game, Sargeant took the free kick from about 25 yards out, and tapped it to Brielle Filtch, who reared back as if to shoot on goal. Instead, her chip shot over the wall found a cutting Jordin Wentworth near the far post; Wentworth, undefended, tipped it in.
"They were able to change the dynamic of the game," coach Lea Brady said. "We gave up the free kick and we just lost a little bit of marking and they were able to capitalize."
Madison Belvido scored with about a minute left to provide the final margin.
"I think [my team] did an amazing job," Brady said. "They were defensively sound. Unfortunately in games like these, it takes just one opportunity to change the outcome."
Ricci posited that "the fact that we worked and we kept working it makes it hurt less." Nolan, tears in her eyes, countered that with all the girls graduating, "I don't know what's going to happen next year.
"Yes, we did know," they were this good, Nolan added. "On the way up, everyone was getting their heads in the game and listening to music. We were getting our minds set."
She took a breath, and allowed room for optimism. "We played very well," she said.