By PHIL BLACKWELL
Jessica Strang could not be held down all night.
And when she broke through, the Schalmont girls soccer team followed, moving a step closer to its goal of making the state class B final four.
The Sabres, down in the second half of Tuesday night's regional playoff against Westhill at Chittenango High School, rallied for a 2-1 victory by getting both of its goals in the final 20 minutes of regulation.
In doing so, Schalmont stopped a formidable foe. Westhill had knocked off state-ranked powerhouses Watertown IHC and Marcellus on its way to the Section III crown, seeking a return to its glory days when it won three state championships from 1995 to 1999.
Schalmont was coming off its biggest win of the season, a 1-0 victory over Tamarac in the Section II final last Friday. In that game, the Sabres got a first-half goal from Strang and held on to win the title.
Westhill centered its defensive strategy on containing Strang. All through the first half, Warrior defenders Jenna Martens and Alex Root took turns shadowing her, sometimes resorting to double teams to prevent her from any open space to operate.
For a while, it worked. Schalmont and Westhill played to a 0-0 first-half draw, the Sabres' own defense doing an outstanding job playing into a stiff wind.
Westhill jumped into the lead less than three minutes into the second half when Laura Zimmerman headed the ball past Brittany McDonald.
Trailing 1-0, the Sabres picked up its attacks as a whole, sending more players forward in an attempt to spread Westhill's defense out.
That effort paid off midway through the second half. Taking the ball 40 yards from the net, Strang isolated herself one-on-one with a defender, then blew past her and went in, her shot easily eluding Lauren Snyder to tie the game.
That served as a jolt for the rest of the Sabres, who began to swarm to the Westhill net, constantly testing Cooper with any kind of shot as the Warriors found it difficult to clear working into that wind.
With 7:08 to play, Schalmont attacked again. Freshman Laura Snowden sent a low shot whose velocity fooled Snyder, and by the time she reacted, the ball had crashed into the net, just inside the right post.
This win sent the Sabres (18-3) into Saturday's regional championship game against Salmon River (Section X) in Plattsburgh."