If anyone knew what was waiting in the next chapter of the Cinderella postseason for the Sweet Home Panthers, it was coach Chris Hershey.
Hershey is a 1993 graduate of Greece-Arcadia, where he played soccer, and he knows all about how the Rochester-area schools of Section V dominate the Far West Regional round.
"I know what we were facing," said Hershey. "We had such a great run. I just wanted them to go play their game. We talked about how it was probably going to be a different team than we're used to playing."
It took only the first 4:17 of the second half for the Panthers to find out how different. Penfield scored three times in that span to lift the Patriots to a 4-0 victory over Sweet Home in the Class AA Far West Regionals on a frigid Friday night at Lewiston-Porter's Elia Stadium. An estimated crowd of 300 saw Penfield improve to 8-1 in the Far West Regionals as Section V completed a sweep. In the first game of a doubleheader, East Rochester beat Allegany-Limestone, 2-1, in Class C.
Penfield (17-1-3) and East Rochester (16-5) advance to the state final four next weekend at Oneonta's National Soccer Hall of Fame Complex. Lew-Port will host the Class B (10 a.m.), A (2 p.m.) and D (4 p.m.) Far West Regionals today.
Sweet Home (12-9-2) had an amazing postseason run. The Panthers went 0-16-1 last season, scoring only five goals the entire year. This season, they finished fourth in ECIC II and earned the No. 11 seed for the sectional tournament, only to march through the best of Section VI's Class AA in the third (Lancaster), second (Williamsville North) and fourth (Lockport) seeds.
But Friday the Panthers were up against a Penfield team which has won 18 Section V titles, been state champions two of the last three years (2001 and 2002) and has three seniors being recruited by Division I colleges: forward Jamarr Miller and midfielders Mike Lentine and Brian Usinger.
On a bitterly cold night in which players could see their breath and had sweat freeze to their faces, Sweet Home trailed, 1-0, at halftime and spent the break warming up on the bus. Soon after, it was warm-up-the-bus time for the Panthers.
Just 90 seconds into the second half, John Koestner easily worked the ball deep on the right wing and sent a feed rolling across to the far side, where Mark Volturno was all alone to put it in. Only 1:32 later, Miller -- who had Penfield's first-half goal -- scored on a highlight play. Miller took a through ball at the left center of the semicircle at the top of the penalty box and beat two defenders, bumping one off and deked out another before prettily slamming a ball into the right side of the goal.
Just over a minute later, Usinger sent a long through ball up the middle to Lentine, who after a few dribbles rolled the ball into the left corner for a 4-0 lead.
Sweet Home played Penfield tough early on and even had the best chance in the early going. A Penfield defender whiffed on a clearing attempt inside the penalty box, leaving junior Yasser Natarseh with a great chance. As Natarseh fell to the ground, his right-footed line drive beat goalie Kyle Zinter but it banged off the right half of the crossbar.
"We would have liked to come out in the second half but it just wasn't there," said Sweet Home senior goalie Andrew Goetz. "It's been an unbelievable run."
In the Class C game, East Rochester dominated most of the game before holding off some late scares from Allegany-Limestone (18-3), which got a goal from Collin Stoneham with 3:40 left.
"We didn't have the touches in the first half," said first-year Allegany-Limestone coach Jon Luce. "They did a great job shutting down our offense. That's been our strength all year."