McQuaid keeps undefeated season alive and improves to 17-0-2
By PETER MANCUSO
SPENCERPORT, N.Y. — As harsh as it may sound, there might not be a bigger personal motivator for an athlete than failure, especially when you know deep down you could have done better.
That is what the returnees on the McQuaid varsity soccer team faced over the off-season after losing to Fairport in overtime during the semifinal round of the 2021 Class AA sectional tournament. The Knights were the top seed last year and entered sectionals with a 14-1 record.
When asked when he thought he had something special this season, McQuaid boys varsity soccer head coach, Nino Pilato referred to that game last year.
“We knew we had something special brewing with the guys going back to last year. Most of these guys were on the team last year and they felt the agony of defeat losing in the semis to Fairport and all they have been talking about since last year is getting to the finals and staying hungry and getting to the next step … they’ve accomplished all their goals thus far and have one more to go.”
That one more goal is a state title, a goal that is two more wins away from becoming reality after McQuaid knocked off a very determined Clarence Red Devils (VI) team 2-1, a squad that battled them until the final horn.
In 2017, Pilato led the Knights to their first soccer state title in school history in just his second season at the helm of the program. McQuaid defeated Ithaca (IV) 1-0 in overtime during the semifinal match and then won 6-0 over Half Hollow Hills West (XI) for their first program state crown.
McQuaid and Clarence came into this Far West Regional nearly perfect. The Knights were 16-0-2, while the Red Devils were 17-1-1 with their only loss coming at the end of the regular season to … McQuaid. The final was 3-0 that day, but Clarence was without their star striker Eli Douglas and a few other starters.
“Eli is a game changer,” Pilato noted, “He has fantastic soccer skills and more importantly, he is a fantastic kid. We knew today would be tough with him in the lineup.”
McQuaid came out and carried the pace early on a breezy afternoon at Ranger Stadium, getting a quick corner kick two minutes in and then nearly scoring off another corner kick attempt a few minutes later.
Clarence answered back with their first quality scoring chance of the game near the eight minute mark as Colin Bigham crossed the ball in front, looking for teammate Evan Webster, but the Knights defense cleared it away keeping the game scoreless.
McQuaid got on the board first as Casey Montesano went racing down the right flank and drove a ball on goal that the Red Devils goalie Aiden Hank stopped, but the rebound came out to McQuaid striker Andrew O’Neill who made sure he put it in the back of the net for the 1-0 Knights lead. O’Neill’s goal, his 13th of the season, came in the 10th minute of play.
Both teams traded free kick chances over the next ten minutes as the midfield became a tough place to move with the ball without some physicality taking place.
Douglas proved why Pilato calls him a ‘game changer’ as he single-handily outworked a few Knights defenders to tie up the score at one apiece. Douglas chased down a long ball played toward the corner from near the middle of the and placed a shot from 10 yards out low to the ground which eluded McQuaid goalie Niyen Ruffin with 12:58 to go in the first half.
The Douglas goal got the Clarence offense going a bit as they started to work the ball into the box with more regularity, only to be cleared by McQuaid’s defense. Coming into the game, the Knights had only allowed four goals all season.
With two minutes left in the first half, McQuaid’s Jacob Sevene sent a free kick on goal and Clarence goalie Aiden Hank was able to make a save after a redirect, keeping the score tied at one and that is how the first half ended.
During the first eight minutes of the second half both goalies, Hank and Ruffin, showed why they lead staunch defenses, grabbing balls out of the air and coordinating the defenders to stop offensive attacks.
“I think my defense knows they have a keeper who is able to come out and grab balls and they are able to play more comfortable on the back end,” Ruffin, the Knights’ star keeper explained. “Communication in the back end is important.”
McQuaid was able to capitalize on a corner kick opportunity with just over 30 minutes to play in the game as Sevene drove a ball that flew past the goal box and somehow Montesano had the ability to get it back in play before it went over the end line and found the hottest foot on McQuaid campus – Dylan Bucci – who half-volleyed it home from eight yards out. It proved to be Bucci’s second game winning goal in as many games after not scoring during the regular season.
“You have to keep doing your job on the field … I don’t go out trying to score goals – I just try to help the team win and get into a good position to help on the field,” remarked a very happy Bucci after the game.
Montesano’s speed was evident all game long as he created chances for himself and his teammates; he assisted on both McQuaid goals. He nearly sealed the game away as he gathered a long ball played over top and broke in on Hank, forcing him to make a fantastic kick save to keep it 2-1 with less than 22 minutes to play.
“I like to pressure the defense with my speed and check back to the ball,” Montesano explained when asked about his game plan on the field. “ I pass and move and check back, trying to create opportunities.”
McQuaid kept the pressure up and had numerous free kicks that tested the Clarence defense and Hank and Isaac Hunter, star defender, were up to the task and kept the Red Devils in the game.
The last seven minutes of the match saw a number of scoring chances go wide or get deflected by each defense and as the game entered the final three minutes, Clarence had a free kick from 40 + yards away.
Hunter stared down his options before smashing a direct kick that was curling for the top left corner of the net. I struck part of the post on arrival before McQuaid’s Ruffin reached the corner to punch the ball away as he crashed into the post himself. It was the Red Devils best scoring chance of the second half.
Hunter and Clarence had one more free kick opportunity, albeit from 60 yards out, with six seconds left on the clock but his long shot was headed away by the McQuaid defense as time ran out.
With the victory, McQuaid will play either Connetquot (XI) or Plainview-Old Bethpage (VIII) at 4:45 pm on Saturday at Middletown High School’s Faller Field. Those two clubs meet Sunday, November 6, for a spot in the state final four.
-This will be the Knights third trip to the NYSPHSAA state soccer tournament … in 2005 they beat White Plains (XI) 2-0 in the semifinals before dropping a 1-0 match to Shenendehowa (II) in the finals … in 2017 they defeated Ithaca (IV) 1-0 in overtime during the semifinal match and then won 6-0 over Half Hollow Hills West (XI) for their first program state crown.
-Coach Pilato success as a high school soccer head coach is impressive … in his seven seasons at McQuaid, his teams have won three sectional titles and one state crown with another two wins away; during his 17 seasons at Greece Odyssey, his girls teams won ten sectional titles, made four trips to the state playoffs and won a state crown.
-McQuaid Athletics had a very busy weekend … in addition to the boys’ soccer team advancing to the state final four, the cross-country team won Class B sectionals, the football team team advanced to the Class AA final and the volleyball team advanced to the Class A semifinal.