Using any measurable standard, the Bethlehem girls soccer team put up an extraordinary defensive effort in Saturday’s state Class AA semifinal against Arlington at Homer High School, south of Syracuse.
The only problem was that the Eagles hardly could muster any kind of attack, and that ultimately doomed them in a 1-0 defeat to the Admirals.
“They (Arlington) passed the ball well,” said Bethlehem head coach Tom Rogan. “We play a counter-attack style, and here we weren’t able to counter.”
Just getting to the state final four was a big deal for the Eagles, who had finally won a Class AA regional final (2-0 over Liverpool on Nov. 12 at Stillwater) after three straight defeats in that round from 2008 to 2010.
The reward was a battle against another newcomer to this level, Section I champion Arlington, who ceded ground in the opening minutes of the contest, but soon started seizing control.
Led by midfielders Miranda Tarpey and Danielle Axelrod, the Admirals worked the ball around Bethlehem’s end, rarely getting close-up shots, but preventing any sort of sustained possession on the Eagles’ part.
For the most part, the Eagles resisted well, keeping it 0-0 in the first half. Defenders Dana Donnelly, Briana Swete, Samantha Taillon and Lindsey Woller offered consistent protection, and goalie Katie Nickles turned away the shots sent to her.
“We were very composed back there (on defense) and were well-organized,” said Rogan.
Then, 3:50 into the second half, Arlington pushed on the right side. Tarpey crossed to the middle, and Allie Pushkarsh poked a shot past Nickles, putting the Admirals in front.
Not until the game’s final minutes did the Eagles offer a consistent attack as Arlington continued its effective possession game. When Bethlehem did push late, though, the Admirals easily turned it back.
Bethlehem’s season ended two wins short of the ultimate goal. But just three starters - Donnelly, Jackie Kearney and Allie Olsen - depart, leaving a large returning cast in 2012 hungry to go all the way.
“We’re disappointed with this outcome,” said Rogan. “But we’re pleased with the success of this team. It was great to get here, and they see clearly where they want to be (next year).”