By PHIL BLACKWELL
Pushing all the way to the end, the Schalmont girls soccer team did not want to see its most successful season in the program's history be cut short.
However, the Sabres' rally in last Friday's state Class B semifinal was halted, and Livonia emerged with a 2-1 victory at SUNY Cortland.
Never before had Schalmont appeared in the state final four and for its initial trip, the Sabres got a full taste of the raw conditions evident in late-season events.
Cold and heavy rain drenched the players at kickoff, but the sun was out by the time the game wrapped up. So, it was fitting that the Sabres' play would improve with the conditions.
For much of that wet first half, Schalmont displayed the nerves of a youthful team playing an important game, rarely able to clear the ball from its own end as the Bulldogs, the Section V champion, put on heavy pressure.
In the 17th minute, the Sabres committed a turnover, and it led to Livonia's Stephanie Mulvaney charging in and putting a shot past Schalmont goalie Brittany McDonald for a 1-0 lead.
Twice in the first half, Schalmont had chances to erase the deficit. Just after Mulvaney's tally, Jessica Strang set up Ashlene Potter open in front of the net, only to see Potter shoot it wide. Moments later, a corner kick led to a scoring chance, but Livonia goalie Sydney Devito made a diving stop.
As the first half wound down, the Bulldogs drew a free kick. From 35 yards out, defender Jessica Butterbrodt crushed the ball perfectly inside the crossbar in the middle of the net, giving Livonia a 2-0 edge at the half.
That would prove to be the game winner. As the rain dissipated, Schalmont's attack began to pick up, though for most of the second half that added heat did not lead to any changes on the scoreboard.
But with seven minutes left, the Sabres scored, cutting the Bulldogs' lead to one, and would make several pushes down the stretch before Livonia could hang on.
Further showing its worth, Livonia would go on to win the state championship a day later, beating Wheatley (Section VIII, Long Island) by that same 2-1 margin.
As for Schalmont, the fun might just be beginning. Just six seniors depart from this 20-4 squad, and with standouts like Strang and Potter returning in 2007, the Sabres have a chance to add chapters to its newly-established annals."