Palmer saves the day for Maple Hill, as Wildcats win 17th Section II boys soccer title
COLONIE — The biggest save in Saturday’s Section II Class B boys soccer championship game wasn’t made by Maple Hill goalkeeper Derek VanAlstyne.
It was defenseman Matt Palmer who saved the day for the Wildcats.
Johnstown’s Kurtis Sprung passed to Kieran McCoy in front of the net and VanAlstyne came charging out to make the save. The ball, however, trickled away and rolled slowly toward the goal but Palmer, with a diving, sprawling kick save, punched the ball away from the goal mouth.
Paul Ancin scored a goal on a rebound off a direct kick by Jake Yeager and that was all Maple Hill would need to post a 1-0 victory at South Colonie High School.
“They got on a breakaway and it was about to go in the net. I just kept running like we’ve always been told,” said Palmer, a senior captain. “Don’t stop until you hear the whistle. I went back and kept it out of the net and the rest of the team kept it out of the net for the rest of the game.”
It wasn't the first time Palmer had made a play like that this season.
"We played Hudson a few weeks ago and it was the same thing, rolling in front of the net and I kicked it out," he said. "I’ve seen it before, but that was (Saturday's save) a little bit closer."
No. 1 seed Maple Hill (19-1-0), which has won 11 Section II Class C titles and four more at the Class CC level since 1988, captured its first Class B championship in school history.
It was the 17th Section II championship victory for Maple Hill head coach Dan Gillespie, who has been at the reins since 1976 (he also coached the team in 1974), which puts him alone in first place in Section II history in terms of sectional titles. His 21 league championship seasons and 538 career victories are also Section II records.
"This is our first time in Class B, so this is kind of a big deal for us to be up here," said Palmer. "To win sectionals the first time, it means a lot to us as a team to really pull it together at the end."
"Maple Hill’s tradition in soccer is really high and our expectations are really high," Ancin said. "Our goal was to get to sectionals and win it and even though we stepped up to Class B, we did it."
Maple Hill, ranked No. 10 in the latest New York State Class B poll, has advanced to the a regional semifinal game against Section VII champion Northeastern Clinton Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Plattsburgh High School. The winner of that game faces the Section X champion Potsdam (10-5-3) in a regional final.
“That (Palmer’s save) was crucial to save that goal so we could still be tied going into the second half,” said Ancin, a junior midfielder. “That really motivated us in the second half to get a goal and win this game.”
With less than six minutes expired in the second half, Maple Hill’s Jake Yaeger took a direct kick from the left side of the Johnstown net. The ball sailed over a sea of players and found Johnstown goalie Alex Simon near the far post. Simon, however, could not corral the ball and Ancin, in the right place at the right time, pounced on the loose ball for the Wildcats’ only goal.
“Jake had a good ball over the top and it was on the corner of the box,” Ancin, at left, said. “The goalie came out and I just kind of kicked it through. I looked up and the next thing you know, it was in the back of the net.”
The Wildcats had previously defeated No. 10 seed Johnstown, 1-0, in championship game of Maple Hill’s Fall Sports Tournament on Columbus Day.
Johnstown (10-9-1), which finished in sixth place in the Foothills Council regular season standings, upset No. 7 Coxsackie-Athens in the preliminary round and topped another Cinderella, No. 15 Stillwater, in the quarterfinals. Then, in the semifinals, the Sir Bills scored in the waning seconds of regulation and in overtime to defeat No. 11 Hoosick Falls, 2-1.
“Honestly, I’ve got a couple other sectional patches, but I got them from being pulled up to play on varsity after playing JV,” Palmer said. “This is the first one that I feel I really earned.”
Maple Hill has won three state titles in school history. Of course, none have come at the Class B level, at lest not yet.
“We want to go as far as we can,” said Ancin. “I think we have the potential to go all the way and our group is really motivated to win states.”
Maple Hill (19-1-0) 0 1 — 1
Scoring: MH: Ancin 1-0, Yeager 0-1.
Goalie saves: J: Simon, 10. MH: VanAlstyne, 5.
Corner kicks: J: 2. MH: 1.
- Notes: Maple Hill recorded three quick shots following Palmer's save, but none obviously went in.
- Johnstown rolled the ball across the top of the crossbar off a corner kick with 11 minutes to go in the first half.
- A good number of Maple Hill shots were wide and right of the net, a problem that has plagued the team all season long. "We’re starting to understand how to play offense," Gillespie said. "We’ve missed a ton of shots all year. We outshoot somebody, 26-2 and miss them like mad. We’re trying to work it up a little bit more. Sometimes we’re a little too fancy, flicking it up there and nobody’s there."
- Johnstown's Kieran McCoy and Maple Hill's Matt Palmer received yellow cards in the second half as the game grew increasingly physical.
- Quotes from the notebook: "I told the kids this might be the only, ever time we get a B championship in the whole history of our school because we’re going back down to C next year and everybody’s population is dropping," Gillespie said.
- The Maple Hill girls lost to Chatham in the Section II Class B girls final, 2-1. Andy Santillo was at that game, so check out his report in The Record on Sunday.
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