Assistant Sports Editor
HOOSICK, N.Y. -- One of a kind in Section II this year, Hoosick Falls Central School is spread thin. A Triple Crown fall season has the school -- home of four sectional finalists and three championship teams -- in three places at once this Saturday vying for regional titles.
Exciting times, yes, but athletes in boys soccer, girls soccer and football are not stopping to smell the roses yet ... the state semifinals are a win away. After that, who knows?
"We like to root each other on, but we're worried about winning," said Taylor Baker, a senior on the boys soccer team.
Hoosick Falls (16-5) vs. Lake Placid (11-5)
Saturday, 1 p.m., Plattsburgh H.S.
No one around the Hoosick Falls boys soccer team has gotten any younger during its march toward the best season in program history. Five consecutive one-goal victories in the playoffs -- including 1-0 overtime wins in the last two games -- will do that to you.
It is nerve-racking, playing on a knife's edge, but the Panthers have emerged as masters of the style with nine one-goal wins this season.
"It is stressful," said senior defender Cody Gaines. "We just put in [the work] every game, leave everything on the field, because if we lose we're done. Don't let anything in, don't give them the advantage."
"It makes me want to work harder as a defender, make sure we get the first goal and they don't," Baker said.
Since falling behind, 1-0, to Stillwater in the sectional semifinals, the Panthers have scored four unanswered. One goal by Tyler Carr knocked out perennial powerhouse Maple Hill in the final. The last, Chris LaCroix's fourth of the postseason, clipped Canton (Section X) in regional play on Tuesday.
"As the game progresses we seem to get better. We focus more, we settle down," Hoosick coach Mike Young said. "In hard, blue-collar games I'll take my guys any day."
The Panthers have shut out eight teams this season and allowed just one goal in seven other outings. Resilience and a refusal to crack under pressure have become their trademarks.
Baker and Gaines have cemented the Hoosick Falls back line in the postseason, though Young admitted neither is necessarily in their best position -- only the one that is best for the team.
"[Defense has] always been there. Goalie's my main position but I can always come out," Gaines said. "I put the time in to get good at it because that's where I'm going to be playing, that's where they need me."
Baker has nine goals this season as a forward while Gaines began the year as the veteran, No. 1 goalkeeper.
Along with Gaines' younger brothers Justin and Tyler, and defensive midfielder Evan Phillips, the unit has become a strong-willed force in front of sophomore goalkeeper Noah Chani.
"As far as defense goes, what those guys won't admit because they're very humble is they have the will to not let people score," Young said. "They're kind of natural defenders. They protect the house. They don't want to give up a goal.
"As excited as we get for scoring a goal, we get just as excited for a shutout."
Hoosick Falls (18-2) vs. AuSable Valley (8-11)
Saturday, 1:30 p.m., Stillwater H.S.
It sounded crazy before the season, trying to add firepower to a squad that had had outstripped opponents by some 93 goals on its state championship run the year before.
It was just crazy enough to work.
In 20 games this season, the Hoosick Falls girls soccer team has had 109 goals to celebrate, one more than last year's program record achieved in a 23-game campaign. And, despite being the loneliest player on the field most games, goalkeeper Hannah Fricke is a fan of the new tactics.
"I love it. I love just sitting back and watching them," Fricke said. "I'm like a spectator in the audience, just watching."
The strategy, adding another forward to provide a more dynamic attack, has blossomed in the last month as Hoosick Falls has outscored foes 59-4 in the last nine games. A 6-0 win in the Section II championship game against Mechanicville pushed their tournament account to a stunning 26-1.
Last November's scoreless stalemate in the state final with Friends Academy -- the reason for the off-season changes -- seems a world away when, really, the Panthers are three wins from a repeat crown.Victory against AuSable Valley on Saturday sends them back to the Final Four in Cortland.
"We just want a three-game win streak, that's all," Hoosick coach Tom Husser said.
More than half of the Panthers goals can be credited to freshman Jordyn Haynes (29 goals) and senior Grace Delurey (28 goals), forwards who have played off each other to devastating effect this season.
"They played club together, they're kind of the same player," Husser said. "Gracie has become such a great passer ... and Jordyn can make anybody's through-balls look good, she has such a nose for goal."
Though seldom tested in the sectional tournament, Fricke has been steady and nearly unbeatable when called upon.
"When the ball does get near her she's everywhere," Husser said. "You can tell she's a good one. Just her presence makes our defense more comfortable."
Not that the four seniors in front of Fricke, all returning starters from last year's title team, have looked uncomfortable. That veteran unit -- center backs Alice Hayden and Liz Babson, and outside backs Anna Restino and Emily Everard -- has thrived trying to match their own high-scoring offense.
"Sometimes that puts pressure on us, but I think when we have pressure it makes us want to work harder," said Everard.
Often during the sectional rampage it was timely pressure on the outside from Restino and Everard, refusing to let opponents break out on a counter, that stoked the attacking fire.
"It's hard to time it, you don't want to go too soon or too late," Everard said. "But by now we've got it down, for the most part."