BY TIM TAYLOR
Tioga County Sports Report
CORNING — Section III boys lacrosse teams have won more than 75 percent of their state playoff games against Section IV during the 43-year history of the state playoffs. Saturday’s quarterfinals were no different as the Syracuse-area teams went 3-1 against the Southern Tier (Vestal being the lone winner).
One of the three teams on the downside of the quarterfinal results, Owego came into the game as a heavy underdog. Section III champion James-DeWitt had no intention of being an upset victim, running away early to post a 17-3 victory at Corning-Painted Post High School.
The Red Rams, seeking their sixth state title (they won Class B in 2016), dominated with speed, scoring quickly off the opening face-off to put the initial goal on the scoreboard just seven seconds after the opening whistle. Brendan Coyle took the face-off and found scoring leader Connor Durkin, who zipped a pass across the crease to William Davis.
Naturally, the Rams went with a well-prepared offensive strategy that has carried them to 20 wins in 21 games this season (the lone loss coming in overtime to Section V Class A champion Fairport).
“They play very fast,” said Owego head coach Andy race. “They are comparable to some of the teams in our section, but they are probably even a little bit better than some of our best teams. They’re at a Corning or a Vestal, Ithaca level, but even another step higher. We scrimmaged some of those teams this year, played some of those teams this year, and these guys are right up there with the best that we’ve seen.
“We came and we threw everything we had at them, and I couldn’t be prouder of these guys.”
The Rams maintained that tempo and controlled the pace throughout the first quarter, building a 6-0 advantage.
Durkin assisted on the second goal by Tanner Burns at 8:50, and Davis picked up assists on the next two scores. He fed Chris Cote at 6:48 and Matt Kemmis, the team leader in goals, at 4:30.
Kemmis scored his 60th goal of the season 27 seconds later on a pass from Burns. John Keib closed out the first-quarter scoring with 33.7 seconds left on a pass from Durkin.
Durbin, who finished the game with seven points, giving him 115 on the season, scored the first two goals of the second period. He tallied on a pass from Davis at 10:43 during a man-up situation, then on a feed from Burns at 9:14 to push the J-D lead to 8-0.
Kiev found the back of the net on a pass from Tyler Brang at 6:41, then Brang scored unassisted at the three-minute mark to give the Rams a 10-0 cushion.
The Indians would record the first state playoff goal in school history with 1:43 remaining in the half when Justin Brown zipped an underhand shot past J-D goalie Jamison MacLachlan.
Owego went a man down in the final minute of the half and J-D took advantage with Durkin scoring on a Keib pass with 44.2 seconds to go.
Refusing to give in, the Indians came out pumped to start the second half and Luke Maslin scored on a pass from Connor Kinney 42 seconds into the third period.
“I definitely felt like we were a little bit wide-eyed at the beginning of the game, like holy cow these guys are good,” said Race. “We had scouted them a little bit, seen a little bit of what they did, but to see it in real time and live speed is something else. Once we were able to settle in a little bit, I thought we were able to do a few more of the things we tried to do coming into the game. It was good that we know that when it comes down to it, we may be able to compete in the future with them. It’s great to see it and experience it so now we know what we’ve got to prepare for next year.”
The Owego defense stepped up as well, stifling the Rams’ high-scoring offense for more than five minutes. J-D went 5:57 without a goal, its longest scoring drought of the game.
The Rams would eventually regroup. Burns scored on a pass from Patrick Murad at 6:47, and Kemmis tallied on a feed from Davis at 6:02 and unassisted with a man-up goal at 5:51, pushing the J-D lead to 14-2.
Tyler Phelps registered Owego’s final goal with 33.4 seconds left in the quarter, firing the ball to MacLachlan’s left from 20 yards away.
The Indians made several substitutions at the start of the fourth quarter, and Durkin scored on a pass from Keib at 11:05 to make it 15-3. J-D would pull its top scorers at the four-minute mark, and reserves Ethan Kesselring and Joseph Sanville would add unassisted goals at 3:16 and :51, respectively.
J-D outshot Owego, 46-21, held a 16-13 edge in ground balls and won 15 of 21 face-offs.
Zach Miner made 10 saves for the Indians. Brandon Worzel played the fourth quarter, making one save.
Owego finished the season with a 10-7 record, and with the program’s first Section IV championship and state playoff appearance to its credit. Race found it difficult to describe what the accomplishments of this team mean.
“I can’t say enough. I was trying to think of something to say to them at the end of the game and it’s like there’s no words, because I’m so proud of them,” he said. “Being a player in the program myself, never getting a sectional championship, it just means everything.
“These guys were able to go out and do that, get it done, and they really did it for the whole 21 years of Owego lacrosse, not just 2019. They did a phenomenal job. There’s not enough words to explain what they did.”
IN PHOTO 1: Owego’s Gio Fabi (30). … PHOTOS BY TIM TAYLOR.
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