Apparently, Clarence girls soccer goalkeeper Grace Fabian doesn't mind a challenging shot in a big moment.
A little over three minutes into Monday’s Section VI Class AA finals at the Frank Constantino Sports Complex at Depew, second-seeded Williamsville North, on Halloween night, put a scare into top-seeded Clarence. Samantha Diamond’s strike from 30 yards out had knuckleball-like spin and took a funny bounce over the head of Fabian and into the net for a 1-0 Will North lead.
It was an innocent-looking, soft shot that Fabian misplayed.
Her last save was sweet redemption, though, and the degree of difficulty was much higher.
With Will North’s Maya Palmer speeding past the Clarence defense in the final five minutes, Fabian charged, slid and kicked aside the potential equalizer — unleashed just 10 yards from the goal line, with no one between Palmer and Fabian. It was a chance that’s tied many soccer games before.
Instead, the save sealed Clarence’s 2-1 victory and the program’s fourth consecutive Class AA crown.
Senior co-captain Gabrielle Loewer netted the game-winner early in the second half.
“I’m thrilled for them,” Clarence coach Dave Stephan said. “They earned everything.
“That was a huge save at the end. I hope they have that one on tape. … That was a little scary.”
Fabian agreed it was scary, but she was also determined to buckle down following that early blunder.
“You just put in your mind that it’s 0-0 still and it didn’t happen,” said Fabian, who made seven saves. “You just think about the things we’ve done throughout the season and you realize it’s OK.”
Clarence, indeed, has done some amazing things this season. The Red Devils are now 18-1, with their only loss coming to Section III power Baldwinsville. They’ve outscored area competition 103-5 and haven’t lost a game to a Western New York team since 2013.
Recently, it's been uncommon for a WNY squad to compete on the same level as the Red Devils. And one of those rare teams was upset-minded Will North, which finishes 13-4-1. The Spartans put in a spirited effort, but Clarence owns the pedigree it does for a reason.
The Spartans’ advantage lasted 32 minutes … and it was the only 32 minutes the Red Devils have trailed against WNY competition all year.
Julia Darlak tied it up late in the first half with a perfectly placed shot that she tucked in the bottom-left corner. Loewer then picked the top-right corner with 35:37 remaining.
The result was vastly different than the regular-season meetings between the teams — Clarence swept the two-game series, winning by a combined 15-0.
Despite that, Stephan didn’t expect a blowout, and his group was ready for a grind-it-out affair.
“I knew it was coming. North was unbelievable,” Stephan said. “I was just hoping that we could stay with our game plan. We knew they’d play defensive after they got that goal. So we just kept going at them.”
Clarence has three Division I-commits in Anna Davies (Marist), Riley Bowers (Ohio State) and Hannah Spitzer (Duquesne). The former two plus Emma Faso are Clarence’s leading goal-getters, but they were kept off the board, and Clarence showcased its scoring depth.
“We’ve had that all year, our secondary players are filling in blanks,” Stephan said.
The Red Devils, state semifinalists the last two years, are scheduled to take on Victor in Far West Regionals at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Geneseo. Clarence defeated Victor, 1-0, at this point last year.