By Mike Petro
Special to The News
When Grand Island senior Madisyn Pezzino asked her coach to say the last word with the team before they hit the field Saturday for the Class A-1 girls soccer final, David Bowman couldn’t find a reason not give her that opportunity.
After experiencing the disappointment of losing the last two seasons to Williamsville East in a sectional championship game, Pezzino, Western New York’s top goal scorer, told her teammates that this was their year and implored them to give it their all.
"She got them going. They stepped out on the field, and they just did their job," Bowman said. "Madisyn has been fantastic all week long, encouraging the girls and telling them, ‘we got this.’ And she showed up today and did the same thing."
The Florida State-bound Pezzino made her words count as she scored all three of Grand Island’s goals to propel the top-seeded Vikings to a 3-1 win over No. 2 East on a mild but blustery afternoon at Williamsville North.
"She did her job and she did it patiently," Bowman said. "There were times when she waited and waited for opportunities and then made her chances count. That’s just why, in my opinion, she’s the best player around and maybe the best I’ve ever seen."
Grand Island (18-1) will play for the overall Class A title on Tuesday 7:30 p.m. at Williamsville North against Amherst earned the Class A-2 title coming from two behind at the half to win in overtime, 3-2, over Lew-Port. Haley Dauria scored the game-winner, sending a loose ball from about 10 yards past an aggressive Lew-Port goalkeeper with five minutes left in the second overtime.
In Class A-1, Pezzino scored early to give Grand Island the lead. After East tied the game just before halftime on Marissa Birzon’s penalty kick goal, Pezzino added a pair of second half tallies. Grand Island won a sectional title for the first time since 2010.
"It’s the most amazing feeling," Pezzino said. "After my second goal, I almost started crying, because we wanted this so bad."
On the game-winner with 26:47 left, Pezzino caught the goalie out of the net and dribbled the ball into the right corner. She all but sealed the championship scoring on a breakaway with 2:19 left in the game.
"With the score 2-1, they’re still in the game, but getting it to 3-1, there is a huge weight off your shoulders," Pezzino said. "Now you know you just have to finish the game strong."
Senior Kelsey Harrigan shadowed the Ohio State-bound Birzon and was able to challenge last year’s Western New York Player of the Year just enough. Also, junior goalkeeper Sarah Bykowicz made a few crucial saves on Birzon.
"We played our defensive game, with everybody being aware and everybody knowing where Marissa is, marking her and making sure she didn’t get any good clean looks," Bowman said. "And then my goalie came up big again. Marissa is a great player and still got some opportunities."
Senior Marcy Barberic added two assists in the win, and junior teammate Ana Mascaro had one helper.
"Our goal was to get back to this game and win this game; the fact that it was against East, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t (more special)," Bowman said. "The reason being is because it’s the other best program in the area with one of the other best players (Birzon) in the area."
In Class A-2, trailing by two goals at the half, Amherst coach Joanna Fildes decided to add a third player up front to help ignite the team’s offense.
Fildes moved Dauria from her usual spot at outside midfield, and it paid off with the senior scoring the game-winner from in-close for the third-seeded Tigers (14-4-1). Amherst last played in a sectional final in 2008 and lost in triple overtime to Williamsville East.
"It opened the middle of the field a little bit for us," Fildes said. "And then we just tried to hit the ball across and attack the goal. Haley was in a good spot and she just finished it."
Four minutes into the second half, senior Gina Fahey brought Amherst within one, and senior Abby DeCicco tied the game with nine minutes remaining in regulation.
Top-seeded Lew-Port was opportunistic in taking its 2-0 lead on goals by Alexis Lindamer and Kerstin Crum.
"It’s been a long time coming," said Dauria, who added that Amherst last won a sectional title in girls soccer in 1999. "It feels really good to bring it back to Amherst."