LAGRANGEVILLE — With the wind whistling at Arlington High School for Sunday’s Class C final, top-seeded Solomon Schechter took the calculated risk to play with the wind at its back for the first half.
The Lions knew it would be difficult to generate offense in the second half when they had to defend the other half, but they felt confident that they would be able to build up an early, wind-aided lead.
A big reason for that confidence was senior midfielder Ari Leffell, who proved to be a lethal weapon on set pieces.
True to his word, Leffell scored two first half goals to give Schechter a halftime lead en route to a 3-2 win over No. 3 Hamilton, leading the Lions to their second section title in three years.
His first goal came in the 21st minute when he bent a corner kick around the near post, much to the surprise of goalkeeper Jose Espinoza and the Red Raiders’ defense.
“On corner kicks throughout the season, if I see where the goalie is playing, I’ll sometimes try to hit it to the near post and maybe get a bend,” Leffell said. “But the wind certainly did a lot of the work this time.”
Three minutes later, Leffell made it 2-0 when he buried a free kick from about 30 yards out, which was the score heading into halftime.
“At the beginning of the game, we used the wind to our advantage,” senior defender Noah Goldberg said. “We sent through balls, we played to our feet, and our shots were hard for the goalie to stop. And then defensively for us in the second half, we couldn’t clear the ball out and it threw our game plan off. But we got ahead early, and that’s all that matters.”
Hamilton’s leading scorer Capy Charles scored and an assist on two goals in the final three minutes to make it close, but the Lions were able to hold on for the one-goal win.
They’ll play Section 9 champ Rhinebeck in the regional semifinals on Wednesday at Middletown High.
“This group is very special,” Goldberg said. “We made the farthest run that our school has had in our sophomore year, and this year we genuinely think that we can make a state run. We’re not accepting just making it to the sectional finals. We wanted to come out for this game, set the tone early and just feed off of that momentum.”