Thursday November 15, 2012

AUSTIN DANFORTH

Assistant Sports Editor

HOOSICK, N.Y. -- Darkness did everything it could to chase the Hoosick Falls Central School boys soccer team out of Tuesday's practice at Delurey Field. But, true to form, the Panthers did not budge.

That brand of persistence -- a developing penchant for timely goals and a succession of tense victories -- has fueled their current ground-breaking, deep-November playoff run.

No. 2 Galway couldn't shake the seventh-seeded Panthers in the sectional tournament and neither could perennial power Maple Hill. The best that Section X and Section VII could offer couldn't turn them away on their own northern turf.

And now, for the first time in program history, Hoosick Falls is preparing for the Class C Final Four.

"We always looked up to the 2002 team and the 1980s teams, they both won sectionals. Now, we kind of set a new bar," said senior midfielder Evan Phillips. "People are going to look up to us to be that team to top, to be the best team in Hoosick Falls history."

The experience is new for everyone involved.

"It's the first time Hoosick Falls has gone this far. It's nerve-racking," sophomore Alex Kraus said. "I'm not used to it and the team isn't really used to it -- it's new territory."

The Panthers (17-5) face Lansing (20-0), the Section IV champion, at 11:15 a.m. Saturday at Middletown High School -- the latest and last of their postseason road trips.

"Traveling on the road is nothing new for us," coach Mike Young said. "To the kids credit, they treat everything the same.

"I'm sure as we get a little closer to this weekend, take the bus trip down there and arrive at the hotel, it's going to be a little different because it's not the norm," he said. "But this week has been steady and they've been steady all through the playoffs."

A 1-0 victory against Lake Placid last Saturday -- Hoosick's third straight win by that score -- had the Panthers riding back into town with their first regional title. It was the sixth one-goal victory in as many playoff games and the 10th of the season.

Young said his defense was "rock-solid," keeping the Bombers outside the penalty area most of the game.

"Our defense has always been stellar, but you never know. You can always have a let-down," Phillips said. "It's been hard to get goals but we've been able to make do with just scoring one."

The run might make the Panthers' defense look impenetrable, but has it added an air of invincibility?

"No. Not ... no. No," Phillips said, ending the discussion.

Chris LaCroix has scored five of his eight goals in the playoffs, including the last two game-winners. He set up scoring leader Tyler Carr (13 goals) for the tally that clinched the Section II title.

Hoosick Falls has only scored two of its nine postseason goals in the first half. The new-found knack for clutch goals is one way to measure the team's late-game prowess.

"The thing you can always take away with this team is how they get stronger as the game goes on," Young said. "The longer we play, the more our fitness shows, the more our game-planning comes together."

For the second year in a row, Lansing brings a perfect record into the state semifinals.

Two wins from a nearly unthinkable state championship, Hoosick Falls is anxious for its chance to deny the Bobcats this year, too.

"We all dreamed of the sectional title but this is a new goal. Now that we're here, we might as well do the best we can and see what happens," Phillips said.