Assistant Sports Editor
STILLWATER, N.Y. -- Forty minutes from a possible return trip to the Class C state semifinals, one goal could have done the trick for Hoosick Falls Central School.
But only one team has held the free-scoring Panthers to a single goal this season.
And it wasn't AuSable Valley.
Hitting the "reset" button after a scoreless first half against a plucky Patriots side, Hoosick Falls bagged three goals in the first 10 minutes after the break to roll to a 4-0 victory in Saturday's regional championship game at Stillwater High School.
Four players scored for the Panthers (19-2), who bounced Section VII-champion AuSable Valley (8-12) to punch their ticket to next weekend's Final Four in Cortland.
"We all were like, ‘We need to step it up if we want this,'" senior defender Liz Babson said. "We need to all work together and play our game like how we normally play -- talking, making good passes."
"I think we had known their record and expected it to be an easy game," said junior Dana O'Malley. "We went out and weren't really ready for it."
Tense first-half moments had the reigning state co-champions on edge as the Patriots' quickness and long-ball style freed space behind the Panthers' back line.
Nine minutes into the game, a Hoosick defender's clearance in the face of a counter-attack took a bad bounce off an AuSable player. The ricochet behind the last defender left goalkeeper Hannah Fricke (three saves) stranded against four attackers, but the junior backstop raced out of her penalty area to poke the ball wide at the last second.
"They were better than advertised, that's for sure. They had speed, they were good in the air," Hoosick coach Tom Husser said. "I was wondering, we could go like this for 80 minutes but could they? I think we wore them down a little bit."
AuSable goalkeeper Bryce Douglas (10 saves) did well to repel a handful of Hoosick Falls chances in the first stanza but a mix-up with one of her defenders led to the opening goal 84 seconds after halftime.
Charging into the box for a through-ball just as it reached Douglas, Panthers freshman Jordyn Haynes found a loose ball at her feet moments later and buried the empty-netter for her team-leading 30th goal of the year.
The early blow zapped the Patriots, who had yet to allow a postseason goal, of their first-half confidence.
"We wanted to boom it into their end and take [the ball] away from them, but they had adjusted quite well," AuSable coach Bruce Bourgeois said. "They're the sort of team, we knew if they scored they were going to come back again.
"Our girls were hanging their heads for a little bit after that first goal and then they got a couple more."
Two minutes later, Allie Martin cleaned up Rachel Pine's deflection on a corner kick at the far post to double the lead.
"We were playing everything down the middle, we were turning into their defenders. We had to start using our flank play and possessing the ball," Husser said.
Haynes setup the third Hoosick goal with a clever piece of skill. One-on-one with Douglas inches from the right end line after rounding a defender, the freshman spun a pass on the turf around the keeper with the outside of her foot to set up O'Malley for another empty-netter.
"Dana could've put eight balls in, she was so wide-open," Husser said.
With 21 minutes to go, Grace Delurey squared the ball across the box to Babson, playing in an advanced role, who slotted into the left side of the goal for the final tally.
After Saturday's victory, Hoosick Falls has outscored opponents 30-1 in five postseason games. They learn their semifinal foe this week.
Section IX-champion S.S. Seward faces Section VIII's Friends Academy -- which split last year's title with the Panthers after a scoreless draw -- for that last Cortland berth.
"We're really excited. It was a really good time last year and a once-in-a-lifetime experience and to be able to go back is amazing," O'Malley said. "It's such an honor."