Marissa Birzon stood out in the girls’ soccer Class A Final on Saturday afternoon – and not just because of the bright pink bow in her hair.
Birzon has worn the tie throughout October for breast cancer awareness and good luck – but it was evident her skill alone was enough to score all four of her team’s goals and bring Williamsville East its second straight Section VI Championship.
Behind Birzon’s four-goal performance, No. 3 Williamsville East defeated No. 1 Grand Island, 4-2 in double overtime, for the Class A title. The Flames fell behind, 2-0, only 11 minutes in, but Birzon scored two goals to tie it and another two in overtime to win it.
“We needed another big performance out of our best player and the best player I’ve ever coached,” said Flames head coach Chris Durr. “Just a huge, huge performance to score four times and lead us to this championship.”
Clarence won the Class AA title earlier in the day at Amherst, while Wilson won the Class B title in the late game. All three teams will go on to regionals next weekend.
Grand Island went ahead, 2-0, early with two goals by captain Madisyn Pezzino. Birzon said the Flames bore down instead of getting upset with one another, which led to good passing and opportunities for her to score.
But she scored her game-winning goal without any help.
Only 13 seconds into the first overtime period, Birzon read the eyes of a Viking defender, stole the pass and chipped a shot over the Grand Island goalkeeper’s head. Birzon scored again just two minutes later to make it a 4-2 game and the Flames held on through the second overtime.
After a shaky start, Williamsville East goalkeeper Sarah Panepento blanked the Vikings the final 79 minutes of the game, including a diving save on a Grand Island shot as time expired in regulation.
“That was an amazing win for us,” Birzon said. “When we don’t get the start we want exactly, we can come right back and work together.”
Earlier in the day, Clarence’s “organized, composed” and at times mechanically efficient approach gave it its third straight Class AA Championship with a 3-1 win over No. 2 Lancaster.
The No. 1 Red Devils went up, 3-0, before Lancaster got on the board in the final five minutes, and absolutely dominated possession with crisp passes on the slick turf field. Clarence head coach Tom Furminger said while the team worked on movement and possession in practice Friday, his players have been working on technique for much longer.
“Those kids have been doing it since they were 5 years old,” Furminger said. “They’ve worked so hard, their parents have been training them. Their technique is great. A high school team that plays like that is fun to watch.”
Sydney Cerza, a senior who scored Clarence’s first goal, said while it’s “crazy to think” that this was her last finals match, the team has been focused on returning to States all season. And after the game, the Red Devils threw around phrases you’d expect out of a three-time champion, like “one game at a time” and “do your job.”
“Every game is going to be tough through our sectionals, through our league,” Furminger said. “Now the road gets even tougher.”
In the late game, No. 2 Wilson defeated No. 4 Tonawanda, 2-1, for its first Class B title since 2001. Hope Balling put Tonawanda up, 1-0, in the first, but the Lakemen scored twice with the game-winning goal coming from Lauren Couturier.
“Not that I want to spot a team, 1-0, but it seems like when someone else scores, we gear ourselves up and play better,” said Wilson head coach TJ Baia. “No one hangs their head and that’s the important thing.”