Belhseine and Rice lead Athena into regionals

By PAUL GOTHAM

SPENCERPORT, N.Y. — Othman Belhseine and Dylan Rice combined for all the offense as the Greece Athena Trojans defeated Pittsford Sutherland, 3-0 Tuesday night.

The win clinched a spot in the New York State Far West Regional for Athena.

Deadlocked in a scoreless tie at half, the Trojans’ pressure resulted in an early penalty kick. Rice converted less than four minutes into the second stanza.

“It could have gone either way, that was the feeling, I thought coming out of it,” Athena head coach Mike Butler said of the mindset after 40 minutes of play.  “When we had the ball on the ground and knocked it around we were better. Their defense did a great job, but Dylan and Othman coming at you all game is extremely difficult for anybody. We knew that eventually if we kept them from scoring, we were going to get some chances.”

Rice led Belhseine past the backline of the Sutherland defense 16 minutes later, and Athena doubled its advantage.

“I saw that Dylan had the ball, and I knew that their defense was getting a little tired,” the senior attacker said. “When I saw him put the ball through, I knew I had a chance. I kinda shrugged off the defender, I tried to place it in the corner. Got lucky for me. When that went in, it was relieving, so relieving.”

Rice one-timed the rebound off a Belhseine to put the match out of reach with 4:46 on the clock.

Athena (No. 12 NYSSWA) beat Sutherland, 5-1 when the two teams met on October 15th. Belhseine netted a hat trick that game. It was his second consecutive three-goal outing. The senior struggled earlier in the season with a hamstring injury before getting to full speed in the second half of the campaign.

Rice netted a pair of goals including the game winner against Greece Arcadia in the semifinals. The junior also collected a hat trick in the sectional-opening win over Irondequoit.

The duo has 37 of the Trojans’ 61 goals on the season.

“They’re really good,” Butler said. “Anything that could be a great player both guys got. There can’t be a better tandem I would think in the state even. Coming at you with two guys, it’s very tough for any defense to hold these guys up for the whole way.”

Sutherland (17-2-1) came into the game having outscored their last four opponents 12-0. Butler talked about the emphasis the Trojans placed upon neutralizing the Knights’ Dylan Kladstrup (19 goals/12 assists) and Will Bowen (12 goals/9 assists).

“When the ball is in the air, they were bigger and stronger at times,” Butler said of Sutherland. “(Jersey number) 27 played great, the Bowen kid in the middle. That period where I thought we struggled was that second part of the first half. He was extremely effective. That was the game plan. Let’s take 14 (Kladstrup) away.  Let’s take 27 away. It was like we’re not taking 27 away.”

Sutherland’s Matthew Nixon made a pair of crucial saves to keep the Knights within striking distance after 40 minutes of play. The junior goalkeeper stopped Victor Alongi one-on-one 25 minutes into the contest. Eleven minutes later, he thwarted an attempt from Belhseine.

The Knights (No. 6 NYSSWA) took the first meeting of the season between the Monroe County Division III rivals, 2-1.

Athena (16-2-2) will play Niagara Wheatfield (VI) in Friday’s Far West Regional. A 7:30 PM kickoff is scheduled at Hilton.

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