Going back-to-back years without a Section VI Class AA boys soccer championship felt like an eternity to Clarence.
After winning at least a share of the title seven times in an 11-year stretch — making the finals in 10 of those seasons — the Red Devils entered an uncharacteristic drought, getting bounced in the semifinals in 2014 and 2015.
But that painful aberration also is what makes 2016 even sweeter for longtime Clarence coach Mike Silverstein and his squad.
Sophomore Ross Showalter scored the lone goal of Saturday’s Class AA title bout at Sweet Home with 20:34 remaining to lift top-seeded Clarence past No. 3 Lancaster, 1-0, and into Far West Regionals.
“It feels good,” said Silverstein, whose Red Devils are top of the class for the first time since 2013. “A two-year drought was a long one. We got back on the horse here.”
The Legends (13-4-2) played the final 46-plus minutes without Tim Molik, a senior co-captain who was given a red card late in the first half for fouling Showalter in the box on a breakaway.
While Lancaster goalkeeper Anthony Gallo stopped Sam Sutherland on the ensuing penalty kick, the damage was done. The red card disqualified one of the Legends’ key defenders and forced them to play a man short the rest of the way.
Clarence, which improved to 16-2-1 and has allowed just five goals all season, controlled the play before the crucial foul call, and continued to pressure after. Especially Sutherland, who consistently found spacious areas to take high-quality shots from.
Only problem was Gallo, who was on his game and also stopped Sutherland on a breakaway.
Still, Sutherland set the tone with his dynamic play. And Showalter finished the job.
It was fitting, and also predictable, those two were at the center of Clarence’s attack in a championship moment, considering the senior-sophomore duo has been Clarence’s 1-2 offensive punch all year.
Sutherland, the senior sniper, is second on Clarence with 14 goals, which trails only Showalter’s 19. And No. 19 was pretty memorable for Showalter, who was waiting near the goal when Gallo fumbled a cross attempt. Showalter threw his head at the loose ball and grazed it into the left corner.
“It’s indescribable,” said Showalter, a varsity rookie. “When I saw it go in, I just went nuts.”
You can bet Sutherland went nuts, too. If Silverstein was psyched to end the Red Devils’ dry spell of two championship-less seasons, you can imagine how Sutherland felt waiting his whole life.
In the years before Sutherland joined Clarence’s varsity, the Red Devils piled up Section VI championship trophies. But his first two varsity campaigns ended in disappointment, a game short of the finals as a sophomore and then a junior.
Suthlerland’s senior season turned out to be different.
During Saturday’s game, he was irritated by his myriad chances coming oh so close without going in. A little later on Saturday, all the frustration was gone.
“I’ve been waiting for this for three years,” Sutherland said. “It feels incredible. It’s what I’ve been working for all my life in soccer. It’s everything I’ve wanted.”
Sutherland, of course, had plenty of help in a game that was a microcosm of the Red Devils’ season: get offense from prolific players and shut down the opposition with a defense led by the aggressive Austin Knorz and heady Bobby O’Brien.
“When that one went in I felt a little sigh of relief because I have a lot of faith in our defense,” Silverstein said. “I knew” Lancaster was “going to send numbers forward but I still knew we could hold down the fort.”
The Red Devils will face the winner of Tuesday’s Section V title tilt between Fairport and Webster Thomas in Far West Regionals, which are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Saturday back at Sweet Home.