MARCY – It’s a little early in the season to call any contest a must-win.
However, if Whitesboro realistically hoped to repeat as Tri Valley League Colonial champs, they desperately needed a victory over rival New Hartford Thursday afternoon. The Spartans came into the game with a 4-0 league mark and riding a five-game shutout streak. Whitesboro was fresh off a disappointing 2-1 defeat Tuesday at Rome Free Academy to fall to 2-1 in the league.
With their backs against the wall, the Warriors got the job done as Koudi Bashir netted a first-half goal that stood up behind a strong defensive performance in a 1-0 victory at Ed Wadas Athletic Complex.
“I think in the TVL it’s going to be decided by one game and two losses in a row would’ve really hurt us,” Whitesboro head coach Ben Karas said. “Our kids came to play beginning yesterday in practice and showed they really wanted this win.”
Whitesboro had won four straight before Tuesday’s defeat. Since a 2-0 loss to Christian Brothers Academy on Sept. 7, the Spartans, ranked 16th in the latest Class A state poll, had strung together five straight shutouts, while outscoring opponents 11-0.
Led by star defense Matt Chiffy and keeper Nick Buchholz, the Spartans were once again extremely stingy throughout the vast majority of the 80 minutes as Whitesboro had limited opportunities. But a quick flurry by the Warriors was the difference in the game.
The offensive charge began as striker/midfield Sam Stuhlman sent Dennis Zhushma down the right sideline. Zhushma weaved through New Hartford defenders and tried to beat Buchholz high, but New Hartford’s senior keeper snagged the shot.
After Buchholz cleared, Stuhlman quickly sent a through ball to a streaking Bashir, who went in alone on Buchholz and feathered a shot into the net with 12:14 remaining in the half.
“I hit it with my left foot and put it in the right side,” Bashir said. “I saw him coming out and I curved it a little bit. It was a big game for us and hopefully we can keep playing like this and beat them next time.”
Whitesboro was the better team in the first half. The Warriors were quicker to the ball and won the majority of 50-50 balls. In the second half, the Spartans began to impose their will in what was a physical, foul-filled final 40 minutes.
The field was tilted in New Hartford’s favor in the first 20 minutes of the second half. The Spartans were controlling possession and the midfield, but unable to gain many real scoring chances as Whitesboro’s defense of Noah Scranton, Jordan Dutcher and Reid Burkdorf were solid with their positioning and decision making to thwart any opportunities.
Scranton, a sophomore, used his speed to clean up any through balls, while Dutcher and Burkdorf were physical with New Hartford’s strikers and outside midfielders to limit New Hartford’s quick-strike offense.
“I think talking to each other and our team work back there was the major key,” Burkdorf said. “Also keeping the positivity up and just keep driving it down to our midfielder and strikers.”
The Spartans did have some chances late off set pieces, but all direct kicks and corners were either cleared by Whitesboro’s defense or corralled by keeper Anthony Ruggiero, who came up big to maintain his team’s narrow advantage.
The win was crucial for Whitesboro to remain relatively in a dead-heat with New Hartford, while RFA and Proctor are just a game back in the loss column.
“Tuesday, I think we came out a little overconfident the first 10 minutes,” Karas said of the loss at RFA. “We were down 2-0 after seven minutes, but the rest of the game we played well … we just couldn’t finish.
“So, I really like what we did today. They came together and they were jelling really well in the first half. In the second half we got into a bit of a pinball match with them, but in the first half we controlled the game and granted the opportunities were rare, but we finished one.”
Last season, Whitesboro swept both regular season meetings to claim the league title. New Hartford got the last laugh by eliminating its rival in the Class A quarterfinals.
Whitesboro hosts VVS at 11 a.m. Saturday, while New Hartford travels to Vestal for a nonleague game at 1 p.m. The rivals meet again in New Hartford on Oct. 11 to round out the regular season in what could decide the league title.
Note: New Hartford head coach Jill Davies-Nelson denied media availability to her team.
Whitesboro 1, New Hartford 0
New Hartford (4-1, 7-2): Nick Buchholz 6 saves.
Whitesboro (3-1, 5-2): Koudi Bashir 1-0, Sam Stuhlman 0-1. Anthony Ruggiero 6 saves.