WESTMORELAND – The Westmoreland/Oriskany boys soccer team followed a familiar pattern during Wednesday’s sectional victory.
The Bulldogs grabbed an early lead, struggled early in the second half, but rebounded in time to close out Little Falls 2-0 in a Section 3 Class C first-round matchup.
Star midfielder Devon Slaboc and forward John Domenico scored goals and the fifth-seeded Bulldogs (10-6-1) relied heavily on the defense of Sam Sill and Carlos Colon, as well as timely goalkeeping from Luke Fredsell to oust the 12th-seeded Mounties (6-10). Westmoreland/Oriskany advances to play at 4th-seeded Bishop Ludden (13-2-2) in the Class C quarterfinals on Friday.
“We were very flat in second half,” Westmoreland/Oriskany head coach Gil Palladino said. “It’s happened a lot this season. We’ve been up 1-0 early, then we struggle with our energy and sometimes it’s tough to turn it back around. It’s those times I wish we had timeouts in soccer. But I try to get our top players to get everyone going, and today we were able to limit their chances and come out with the win.”
The Bulldogs completely controlled play in the opening half, outshooting the Mounties and 13-2 and owning a 4-1 advantage in corner kicks. Midfielder Josh Drake — the Bulldogs’ lone senior – had a hand in setting up several opportunities for himself and his teammates. With 23:23 remaining in the first 40 minutes, Drake moved just inside midfield and drove an absolutely perfect ball to a streaking Slaboc, who took it in stride at the 18’ and moved in behind Little Falls’ defense and chipped it past keeper Andrew Celio and just inside the left post for a 1-0 lead.
“The ball did all the work on that one,” Slaboc said of the perfect pass from Drake. “We have played together before modified and indoor. He lives up the road and is like a brother to me. All I had to do was finish.”
Slaboc has been part of 31 (21 goals and 10 assists) of the Bulldogs’ 36 goals this season. He knows his team relies heavily on him for offense, but tries to make sure he still plays a team game.
“I try not to force it and not get down on myself, Slaboc said. “I have been part of almost all of our goals, so I know what I have to do.”
The Bulldogs threatened to pull away over the remainder of the half, dominating possession time and keeping the ball deep in Little Falls’ end for the majority of play. However, Celio made some key saves for the Mounties, and Slaboc and others couldn’t extend the lead.
Early in the second half, Little Falls really turned things up and play was relatively even throughout the majority of the half. However, every attempt Little Falls had at evening the game, defenders Colon, Sill and keeper Fredsell came up big for the Bulldogs.
The Mounties’ best chance came with 29:00 remaining as a rare misplay by the Westmoreland/Oriskany defense allowed midfielder Ryan Feane to go in alone on Fredsell. The junior keeper didn’t wait and came out to cut down the angle and reached up to turn away Feane’s shot.
“He is not a hard kid to get to take charge,” Palladino said of his keeper. “He controls things and his instincts are great. I really don’t worry too much about my goalkeeping.”
Kyle Stowell, Carlin Straney and Jason Gehring created offense for Little Falls in the second half, but not many resulted in great scoring opportunities as Colon and Sill were usually in perfect position to thwart attacks.
They both played well,” Palladino said. “Carlos has a huge heart and won’t stop, Palladino said. “He doesn’t have the most skill, but makes up for it with his desire. Sam has better touch and control and uses his speed well.”
Sill also played a huge part in the Bulldogs’ second goal. The junior defender moved up in his end to head a Mounties’ through ball. The header went directly to Slaboc, who quickly fed Domenico at midfield. Domenico nicely chipped the ball forward past Little Falls’ defense and raced in alone. He moved just inside the 18’ and let loose a blast that was stopped by a diving Celio, but the rebound came right back to him and he popped it inside the left post for a 2-0 lead with 15:37 remaining.
“I could’ve went in a little farther,” Domenico said. “But I felt the pressure with people coming up behind me. It bounced off the goalie back to me and I was expecting it, and that’s why I crashed. That’s what we practice.”
Little Falls mounted a few charges to get back into the game, but Westmoreland made smart decisions with the ball and ran down the clock for a big win for a young program being built by Palladino, who previously coached 29 seasons at Clinton.
“We are not only young chronologically … we are also young experience wise,” said Palladino, who is in his first season for Westmoreland/Oriskany, which combined programs this season. “We have seven players who never played soccer before. We had a good season and I’m just happy they weren’t just satisfied with making it to sectionals. They came here and got a win.”
Fredsell had six saves for Westmoreland and Celio made seven stops for Little Falls.
Just making it to sectionals was a huge victory for the Mounties, who didn’t win a game from 2012-2014.
“My kids, and especially my seniors, have so much heart,” head coach Mark Blask said. “Two years ago they didn’t win a game and went 0-42 over three seasons. We made baby steps last year and won four games. This year we won six games and were 5-3 in our league. This is a successful season for us.”
Blask gave the credit to the Bulldogs, but was extremely proud of his team’s effort.
“Devon is such a great player, we had to focus so much of our attention to him that it made it tough to get anything started,” Blask said. “But we were just down 1-0 at half and we fought the entire second half. There’s nothing but good things to say about my boys.”
Westmoreland 2, Little Falls 0
Little Falls (6-10): Andrew Celio 7 saves.
Westmoreland (10-6-1): Devon Slaboc 1-0, John Domenico 1-0, Josh Drake 0-1. Luke Fredsell 6 saves.
Nick Sardina is a writer for midyorksportsreport.com. Follow Nick onTwitter @nsardinamysr or on Facebook. Contact him via email at