Barker coach Jeff Costello playfully referred to his sectional title-winning field hockey team from two seasons ago as the "cardiac kids" for their propensity to comeback in games. This year’s team has started to look a lot like the 2016 squad.
Top-seeded Barker Raiders followed up a frantic come-from-behind one-goal win in the semifinal by scoring twice in the final 15 minutes of Thursday’s Class C championship game to defeat Eden, 2-1, and win a third sectional title in the past five seasons.
The game-winner was scored with 20 seconds left when sophomore Natalie Bruning poked home a loose ball in front of the cage on a rain-soaked night at Williamsville North.
"They don’t have any quit in them and sometimes they just need that shot in the arm to get going," Costello said. "We finally got the push down in the circle that we weren’t getting earlier in the game."
In the Class B title game, also at Williamsville North, Pioneer won its first sectional title since 2003, defeating perennial-power and top-seed Iroquois, 1-0, on the strength of an early goal from junior Olivia Kempf and its trademark strong defense.
"Iroquois is super scrappy so what we needed to do was just play our plan – a lot of give-and-go passes up the field and then layer after layer of team defense," longtime Pioneer coach Jana Landahl said. "Getting that goal right off the bat kind of let us settle in."
Across town in the Class A championship game at Williamsville East, top-seeded Williamsville North ran away with a 5-0 win over No. 2 Clarence to earn the program’s fourth straight sectional title. Senior Jordan Cooper scored twice in the win and junior Emma Roland added a goal and two assists.
"We really came together as a team and were really connecting despite the terrible weather," North coach Jess Rys said. "They all played their hearts out and left it out on the field."
The three advance to the Far West Regionals on Saturday at Penfield High School, with Class A playing at 3 p.m., B at 5 p.m. and C at 7 p.m.
In Class C, freshman Lydia Kobe put third-seeded Eden on top with a 1:54 left in the first half and that lead held up until Barker junior Katrina Clare knotted the score at one apiece with about 15 minutes left. Clare earned the assist on the game-winner, feeding the ball in front of the net, where Bruning sent the ball into the cage.
"That’s the biggest goal of my life, so far," Bruning said. "We stayed positive and kept working together, and that’s important as a team."
In Class B, Kempf scored her team-leading 24th goal and continued to play a key role as the first line of defense for second-seeded Pioneer.
"She never ceases to amaze," her coach said. "She’s a great little player."
Landahl also credited the defensive effort of Bella Addesa and Julia Brzezicki, two of only three seniors on the team. When the teams met earlier this season, Iroquois scored four unanswered goals to come back for a 4-2 win over Pioneer (14-4-1). Landahl said Pioneer’s been playing under the radar all season.
After Cooper’s first of two goals sent Williamsville North (17-1) to halftime with a 1-0 lead in Class A, the Spartans exploded for four second-half goals, with senior Bre Shannon, eighth grader Molly Martin and Roland adding tallies. Senior keeper Sam Mallare recorded six saves in the shutout.
North advanced to the state tournament’s final four in 2015 and a year later, won again in the Far West Regional round.