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Eyeing A 3-Peat

Maple Grove Knocks Off Undefeated Portville, 4-0

Maple Grove defender Paxton Faulk clears the ball during Monday’s Section VI Class C semifinal soccer game at Eden High School. P-J photo by Christian Storms

EDEN — Another year, another trip to the Section VI Class C finals for the Maple Grove boys soccer team.

The third-seed Red Dragons did what no team could do this season, defeating No. 2 Portville at Eden High School on Monday. Portville’s closest game this season was a 1-1 tie with Hornell of Section V, but Maple Grove played to its strengths and earned a comfortable 4-0 semifinal victory.

“Tonight was a huge win,” said Maple Grove head coach Cara Abbey. “We are so excited to go back to sectionals next weekend and defend our title.”

Maple Grove looked to jump out to an early lead in the first half as their speed was on full display in transition. In the first 20 minutes, the Red Dragons could have had a commanding lead if it wasn’t for the Panthers’ goalie Troy VanSickle.

VanSickle fought off some strong strikes and played aggressively on a handful of rushes to keep Maple Grove off the scoreboard. But with Eli Moore on the field for the Red Dragons, it was not a question of if they would score, rather it was a question of when. That when came in the 18th minute after RJ Helt laid a perfect ball past the Panthers’ defense, Moore darted through for a 1-on-1 with VanSickle, and allowed no time for VanSickle to charge the ball to make another diving save and ripped a shot into the bottom right corner of the net to go up 1-0.

Maple Grove’s RJ Helt controls the ball during Monday’s Section VI Class C semifinal against Portville at Eden Central School. P-J photo by Christian Storms

The Red Dragons did not stop there as they kept the pressure up, looking for that second goal. The second goal came from Alex MacCallum on a wonderful individual effort, MacCallum dribbled into the box and managed to keep the ball past three waves of defenders right until he was feet away from VanSickle where he proceed to lace the ball into the bottom right corner of the net. Luis Gradewald was credited with the assist on the second goal.

“We knew against an undefeated Portville that our opportunities might not be as plentiful,” Abbey said about the scoring. “So we had to capitalize on every single chance we got.”

Headed into the second half with a two-goal lead, Maple Grove had Portville in a very unfamiliar situation. In just the final 20 minutes of the first half, Portville gave up the most goals in a game all season long, but they were determined to stay undefeated and claw back into the match.

The Panthers controlled much of the play after the break, but the Maple Grove defense did a great job of keeping the pressure off keeper Andrew Auer, who made four saves in the clean sheet.

“Especially in the first 20 minutes of the second half, Portville had a lot of possession and we were defending quite a bit,” Abbey said. “We played patient defense and looked for the right moment to get in there and get the ball.”

Eli Moore dribbles past two Portville defenders during Monday’s Section VI Class C semifinal soccer game at Eden High School. P-J photo by Christian Storms

The Panthers continued to press, making counterattacks the Red Dragons’ biggest offensive threat. The speed of Moore and Helt made the Panthers pay as they connected for two Helt finishes to get out to a 4-0 lead.

“To score four goals against an undefeated team is quite a message to send,” Abbey said. “It’s just a testament to strength of the will that my boys have.”

With the victory Maple Grove finds itself in a fourth consecutive sectional final with hopes to win a third in a row. The last team in the way of Maple Grove’s quest for a three-peat is the No. 1 seed Lafayette International, which sports a 14-3-0 record. The game is set for Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at Eden High School.

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