GLOVERSVILLE — In their last three meetings, one goal was all that separated the Northville and Oppenheim-Ephratah/St. Johnsville girls’ soccer teams.
With a spot in the Section II Class D championship on the line, the margin remained the same, with the third-seeded Wolves posting a 2-1 victory over the second-seeded Falcons in a Class D semifinal contest at Gloversville High School on Thursday.
It was OESJ’s sixth straight win and seventh in its last eight games after a 2-8 start to the season.
“This group has come so far since the start of the season,” OESJ coach Zale Benton said. “They just wanted to keep going. They dug down deep today.”
For a team that started the season with just two wins in its first 10 games, reaching the sectional finals is a welcome surprise.
“I pulled the parents and kids aside earlier this season and told them that we were probably going to get thumped during the first part of the season,” Benton said. “We started out playing an incredibly tough schedule, one that was way above our heads. I knew we would be OK once we got into the league part of our schedule though, and over the second half of the season, we’ve starting picking up our play.”
OESJ has done it with a roster that features just two seniors. The Wolves’ roster includes 11 freshmen and sophomores, six of whom are in the starting lineup.
As a result, most of the team was in junior high when sectionals were last held in 2019.
“Our kids are so young that they have no idea what sectionals even are,” Benton said. “Most of the team was in junior high the last time they were held.”
Sophomore Jordan DeNinno scored the game-winning goal, and the lone goal of the second half, on an assist from Nataley Caponera with 13:21 to play. Caponera scored the lone goal of the first half for the Wolves on an assist from Sydney Schell.
Leah Valovic had the lone goal for Northville, scoring in the first half on an assist from Sophia Reidell.
“We knew it would be a tough, close game between two good teams,” Northville coach Doug Hammons said. “It usually is when we play each other.”
Like OESJ, Northville also struggled earlier this season, going 1-6 in their first seven games before finishing 6-3-1 over their final 10 contests.
“We played a tough schedule this season,” Hammons said. “It was tough for us, but I think it made us better.”
OESJ, which dropped a 2-1 decision at home to Northville on Sept. 22, got out of the gates quickly Thursday.
Caponera put the Wolves on the board when she sent a corner kick from Schell into the back of the net to make it 1-0 just 4:30 into the game.
“Finishing the ball has been an issue for us all year,” Hammons said. “I knew once they scored first, it put us in a position to come back and score two against them.”
Northville pulled back even with 10:19 remaining in the first half when Valovic scored on a corner kick by Reidell to make it 1-1.
After the back-and-forth contest went into the half tied, the teams continued to battle in the second half.
The Wolves grabbed the lead with 13:21 left in the game when DeNinno scored on an assist from Caponera to lift OESJ to the win and a spot in the sectional finals.
They’ve worked hard all year,” Benton said. “I’m proud of how far they’ve come.”
Freshman keeper Jade Bonneau finished with six stops for OESJ.
“Jade hadn’t even played organized soccer before this year,” Benton said. “She’s really improved as the season has gone on, and she made some big plays for us today.”
Abriel Monroe made four saves for Northville.
“Both teams are usually among the best teams in Class D,” Hammons said. “This year, we just happened to be in the same half of the bracket together. That’s just the way the coin fell this year.”
OESJ (9-9 overall) will face top-seeded Fort Ann (13-3-2 overall) for the Class D championship on Monday at Stillwater High School. The Cardinals posted a 2-0 win over fourth-seeded Germantown in Thursday’s other semifinal contest at Gloversville High School.
It will be the Wolves’ first appearance in the championship game since winning the 2015 Class D title.
“If anybody had said that we would be in the finals this year, I would have said OK, we’ll take that,” Benton said. “Now that we’ve made it that far, we want to keep going.”
Northville, which won the Class D title the last time sectionals were played in 2019, will lose six seniors to graduation.
“I feel bad for our seniors because this isn’t how we wanted it to end, but we’ve got a pretty young group,” Hammons said. “We’re coming back next year.”
Northville finished its season with a 7-9-1 overall record.
“Some days you have it, and some days you don’t,” Hammons said. “Today was one of those days.”
Halftime: Tied 1-1. OESJ scoring: Caponera 1-1, DeNinno 1-0, Schell 0-1. Northville scoring: Valovic 1-0, Reidell 0-1. Goalies: OESJ, Bonneau, 6 saves. Northville, Monroe, 4 saves.