Fredonia edges Allegany-Limestone, 1-0, for first sectional boys soccer title in 35 years
ALLEGANY — All Jim Rush wanted was an opportunity.
On Saturday night, the Fredonia boys soccer team rewarded its coach with something even better — a Section VI Class B-2 championship.
Jack Carlson scored the only goal in the first half and the second-seeded Hillbillies claimed their first sectional crown since 1985 with a 1-0 victory over top-seeded Allegany-Limestone.
“I remember telling a parent in August, ‘I just want a chance with this team, just a chance,” Rush said. “Whatever we do with that, at least let’s have a chance,’ and we got our chance. And, guess what? We’re sectional champs and I can’t emphasize that enough. They’ll remember this 30 years from now. We broke a 35-year drought at the school. It was awesome.”
The win capped an improbable season for Fredonia (12-1-3), which lost and tied the Gators (14-3-2) during the regular season. And out of the gates Saturday evening, the Gators appeared to have a little more pep in their step, as they harassed the Hillbillies’ defense, causing a couple early turnovers that led to scoring chances.
After the first couple of chances didn’t result in any goals for the hosts, Fredonia had better luck. In fact, the Hillbillies’ pressure caused a turnover that sent Carlson on a breakaway and he made no mistake on his prime opportunity, striking the ball into the bottom right corner of the net to give Fredonia the lead.
“He’s been a catalyst all year,” Rush said about Carlson. “We have a great group of guys and Jack stepped up in a situation where it was a great shot that just got by (the Gators’ goalie).”
As it turned out, that’s all the Hillbillies needed.
Immediately after the goal, Allegany-Limestone gave its best effort to respond to the Fredonia tally, but the newly inspired defense shut it down with confidence not seen in the first 10 minutes. Slowly from there it appeared the momentum was swinging toward Fredonia, with the ‘Billies possessing the ball and controlling the pace most of the final 20 minutes of the first half.
“Just getting into the flow of the game, that goal lighted a spark under everybody,” Rush said. “The goal ended up being a great shot, it was a great spark. I told them we had seen them twice before this year, and it’s a situation where we’ve played the feeling-out game, but we knew we could play with these guys. We’ve got two really good games against them this year. We knew it was going to be a tight, tight game and we have a very experienced team.”
In the second half, the ‘Billies didn’t change their game plan, and their defense looked like it got better as the game went on.
“We have a team that is not going to back down,” Rush said. We didn’t back down and we kept on coming. If we sat back, they would’ve kept on coming, coming, coming, so we dropped one guy back and just kept pushing forward.”
On the other end of the pitch, the Gators were frantic to find the equalizer, but they committed many turnovers and forced passes. In the second half, Fredonia appeared to have plenty of more opportunity early on, but just couldn’t find the insurance goal. The closest Fredonia came off the foot of Juan Matias, who found the ball just beyond the box, after making a skilled dribble to open space Matias sent a bullet labeled for the top left corner, but Gators’ keeper Jack Conroy punched the ball above the net for a corner kick.
The big save temporarily boosted the Gators, but the hosts couldn’t record the tying goal. When the clock hit zeros, keeper Trevor Persch claimed the clean sheet for Fredonia in the championship and the bench sprinted onto the field to celebrate the long-awaited title.
“In what we’re currently dealing with, to have some sense of normalcy and have something like this, those guys really stepped up and we ended up sectional champions,” Rush said.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Fredonia’s improbable season is over, but not without the championship that has been 35 years in the making.
“Our goal is always to play better at the end of the year,” Rush said. “And we played well at the end of the year. We went through Newfane, Southwestern and Allegany-Limestone and they can’t take that away from us. This wasn’t a shortened playoffs, this was a hard playoffs and they deserve all the credit in the world for what they did.”