They say to be the best, a team must beat the best.
Williamsville North has accomplished that on its way to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Division I championship game.
The Spartans followed up an overtime win over 2016 state runner-up West Genesee by knocking off defending state champion Mamaroneck, 1-0, Saturday in the Division I semifinals at HarborCenter. Mamaroneck was the state’s top-ranked Division I team coming into the game.
North will go for its fifth state title – first since 2011 – under 27th-year coach Bob Rosen when the Spartans face Pittsford of Section V at 3 p.m. Sunday at HarborCenter. Pittsford defeated Massena of Section X, 2-1, in the final game of Saturday’s state semifinal quadruple-header.
“If everything fell into place, we knew we had the hardest path to the final,” Rosen said. “We had no gimme games. … Our league is such that you don’t get many easy nights, which I think has helped us (in the postseason).”
Trevor Cavalier scored his first of the season with 3:16 left in the first period and that goal stood up as senior goaltenders Jake Zurat of North and Tommy Spero of Mamaroneck went toe-to-toe all game.
“In games like this, you get kids who step up. It could be anybody,” Rosen said. “What a time for Trevor’s first goal of the season.”
Zurat faced only 13 shots in recording the shutout, but he was on his game throughout, especially in the first half of the third period when Mamaroneck was pressuring. And he did it while battling a bad cold. Rosen called it one of the gutsiest efforts he’s seen in his almost three decades of coaching.
“You just try to block out the sickness as best you can and once it came to game time, you just try to relax and play your game,” Zurat said. “I think our defense did a good job keeping them to the outside and blocking shots at key points and that made my job easier.”
Rosen said it was key getting the first goal of the game on Spero, who was last year’s Most Valuable Player in the state championship game.
“We wanted that first goal,” he said. “We’ve had the first goal over these last few intense games.”
Playing in the program’s ninth Final 4 in the past 17 years, North outshot Mamaroneck, 24-13, and the Spartans’ special teams killed five penalties. The defensive group was led by Matt Jeffries, Anthony Trigilio, Josh Surowiec, Griffen Green and Robbie Moyer.
“Championships are won on doing little things that you don’t see on stat sheets, like chipping pucks and getting sticks on sticks,” Rosen said. “Throughout the year we emphasize how important they are and it pays off.”
Cavalier redirected a pass from Alex Jones for the game’s lone goal. Later in the contest, North’s Adam Batz and Andrew Bruno each would break in alone on Spero (23 saves) but both were denied.
Early in the third, Mamaroneck’s James Torre was on the doorstep of the net and robbed by Zurat on a rebound and Harrison Fried tipped a shot in front that the North goalie saved with his outstretched left pad. With under two minutes to play, Zurat stopped Torre’s shot up high on a two-on-one break.
“I knew (Spero) was good. I saw all season that he had shutout after shutout,” Zurat said. “So we figured it would be a tough, low-scoring game and we just happened to come out with the win.”
In the Division II semifinals, there were a pair of 6-0 finals with I-Pelham defeating V-Brockport and X-St. Lawrence besting VII-Beekmantown. Pelham, the state’s top-ranked Division II team, will meet St. Lawrence Sunday at noon.