FREEDOM PLAINS — A stunned Bennett Kramer put his hands on his head and shouted in disbelief, seemingly feeling the pressure to produce after missing three playoff games due to a hamstring injury.
Byram Hills’ top striker had two shots hit the post in the first half of Saturday’s Class A regional final against Section 4 champion Vestal at Arlington High, but the Bobcats have proven time and time again in this postseason that they are not over-reliant on one player.
Matt Berger and Cole Tannor took their turns as goal scorers on Saturday, giving Byram a 2-1 win and its first regional title since 2009.
“It’s very frustrating, especially since I just came back,” Kramer said of hitting the post twice. “I missed a couple of games, and I really wanted to get that first goal and kind of get back in form. But I just kept trying to play my game, and our team just kept trying to play our game.”
The Bobcats (17-5) had dominated play throughout the first half, but held a slim 1-0 lead at halftime. Kramer hit the post twice and Ben Weinstein hit it once, with Berger, a reserve forward, scoring the lone goal in the 17th minute.
“Berger also scored in the last game,” Tannor pointed out. “He’s been big. We’ve got Brandon Drossman, who’s been big. Bennett can score goals, I can score goals, so it’s kind of different from last year when we had one guy — David Lachs — who would score goals. We have a bunch of guys who are going to come in and we’re loving it.”
Brian Clark equalized for Vestal in the 52nd minute, but Byram Hills never wavered.
Tannor answered six minutes later, heading in a volley from Weinstein for the winning goal.
“Once they scored, we kind of went into a little huddle and said, ‘Guys, relax. We’ve been here before. We’ve been in this situation before,’ ” Kramer said. “And we said that we knew a goal was going to come.”
And while past Byram teams have been known for having one high-level scorer, this year’s team is getting it done with depth.
“Twenty guys played today and we’ve gotten goals from our bench in every playoff game,” coach Matty Allen said. “They are believers in themselves and their teammates and have come a long way to get to states. I can’t be more proud of a group of young men.”
Byram has won 12 straight games as it continues a quest for its first state title since 2007. It will play its state semifinal against Section 5 champion Greece Athena on Saturday at 11:15 a.m. at Middletown High.
“Not to be cocky, but we knew we had the talent,” Tannor said. “We got the guys together early on in the season and I think it was all of the captains – me, Yianni (Lambos), Bennett and Payton (Levine) – and we knew what our goals were, and that was to win our last game. We weren’t joking around about it. We knew we could do it. We’re here now and it’s become a real goal, and we have two games left. Everyone is feeling it and we’re ready to go.”
MATTITUCK 3, RYE NECK 1
State rankings often prove to be misleading, but Mattituck, the top-ranked team in Class B, turned out to be as good as advertised.
The Section 11 champion eliminated Section 1 champ Rye Neck in the regional finals on Saturday at Diamond in the Pines in Coram with a 3-1 win.
“They were a good team all around; probably the best team that we faced all year,” Rye Neck co-coach Bryan Iacovelli said. “They were very athletic, very physical, a typical Long Island team.”
The Tuckers (17-2) jumped out to a 1-0 lead on a goal from Kaan Iglin, but Rye Neck hung tough and equalized when Marco Andreoli scored off a Reed Peterson corner kick with eight minutes to play in the first half.
But the tie score didn’t last long, as Mattituck’s Paul Hayes scored on a free kick just before the half.
“We tied it up and we were playing with a lot of energy,” Iacovelli said. “Going into halftime tied 1-1 would have been huge to bring momentum into the second half. When they scored, we were still playing hard, but it kind of deflated us going into halftime.”
Mario Arreola scored the third and final goal for the Tuckers with 13 minutes to play.
Mattituck also was able to do what few other teams in the playoffs had — keep Panthers’ star sophomore striker Luis Galeano off the board. He came in with six goals in five playoff games.
“They weren’t man-marking him,” Iacovelli said. “They did a good job, but Luis got behind them, as tough as their defense was. He didn’t score, but they didn’t shut him down.”
The good news for Rye Neck (13-6-3) is that only three of its 11 starters are seniors — Rich Barrios, Cory Soriano and Takuno Nishimura — which puts the Panthers in excellent position to repeat in 2015.
“It’s definitely a luxury,” Iacovelli said. “We spoke after the game, and we haven’t been focusing on the fact that we’re such a young team, but I think they learned that the mistakes you make kind of show up more as you move further along.”
ITHACA 2, JOHN JAY-EAST FISHKILL 0
John Jay-EF surrendered two goals within a span of five minutes late in the second half in a 2-0 loss to Section 4 champion Ithaca in Saturday’s Class AA regional final at Arlington High. The Patriots out-possessed the Little Red for the majority of the game, but couldn’t find a way to finish.