MIDDLETOWN — Connor Paik listened closely as coach Kenny Clearwater briefed Monroe-Woodbury about Baldwinsville’s strengths in his pre-game speech.
Baldwinsville’s defense, which had yielded just two goals in its first 20 games, was big and physical.
It would take a team effort to advance in the state Class AA semifinal, Clearwater reminded his team.
Monroe-Woodbury, ranked No. 1 in the state, fell behind for only the second time this season on Josh Price’s goal 13 minutes in. It was the Crusaders’ attack that would next ignite. Monroe-Woodbury scored four straight times in a 4-1 victory, sending the Crusaders to its first state final in school history.
“Our offense was firing on all cylinders at the perfect time,” said Paik, a senior midfielder who scored Monroe-Woodbury’s first goal. “Everyone was relaxed. We didn't blame anyone (for Baldwinsville’s goal). Everyone stayed composed and we got one five minutes later. It's a team effort.”
“We've been talking about making it to this moment since freshman year, all of us,” Paik said. “Now, we are here. It’s surreal.”
Monroe-Woodbury (20-0), No. 14 in the United Soccer Coaches Super 25 poll, plays Clarence for the state title at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Middletown.
“They responded as a group across the board and the way they stuck together,” Clearwater said. “It would be really easy to get frustrated (after Baldwinsville’s score) and you can continue to go downhill from there. The positive reaction was immediate.”
Paik’s rocket from 12 yards out provided the equalizer in the 19th minute. Chris Ryan gave Monroe-Woodbury its first lead off a second rebound with less than five minutes left in the first half. Defender Joe Nastu’s free kick from 40 yards out was redirected by Christ Valle on a header for Monroe-Woodbury’s third goal. Reserve Jesse Schwartz closed the scoring with 11:23 remaining.
Nastu provided the defensive gem of the game, deflecting Tyler Johnson’s shot at an empty net with Monroe-Woodbury holding a one-goal lead 12 minutes into the second half.
“We were ready for this game,” Nastu said. “We were sitting in the locker room and we said, ‘There was no way we were losing this game. We made it this far. We weren't losing it here at home. This is our home field.’ Everything was positive in the locker room.”
Monroe-Woodbury has won four straight games in the postseason at Middletown’s Faller Field. The Crusaders will hold the elusive state championship plaque with a fifth consecutive victory Sunday.
“It's even bigger than this game,” Nastu said of the state final. “We've been working hard for this game. We made it this far and we can't give up. We are totally focused. Everything is positive. This is our game.”