Rye Squeaks by Cornwall to Gain State Final Four

What does a tight-knit soccer team do when they’re playing in the New York State Regional Finals and one of their leading scorers is tackled from behind in the box, with a clear chance at goal, and no penalty kick is awarded? And worse, what if they lose that player, Vania Ludman, to a broken collarbone on the play?

If the team is the Rye Garnets, they don’t fall to pieces or let their anger and frustration defeat them. Instead they dig down deep and fight back harder on the field. After struggling in the first half against Section Nine champs Cornwall, unbeaten Rye (21-0) rode a Carter Talgo blast from outside the box with less than 10 minutes to play Saturday afternoon at Middletown High School to win 1-0 and advance to the Class A State soccer semifinals.

Senior co-captain and goalkeeper Tatiana Saunders said, “Vania getting injured was a big blow for us, especially because she and Lia Bellizzi work so well together up top.”

Rye started out fast and at the 8-minute mark, shortly before “the incident”, Ludman struck a volley just over the top of the open net. Rye had several more scoring opportunities, especially on a few balls fumbled by Cornwall’s keeper, but were unable to convert. As Saunders put it, “We didn’t take advantage of their mistakes on defense, particularly in the first half.”

Vania Ludman

While Rye’s offense was struggling, the Garnets’ defense, led by Amanda Benincasa and Catharine Greer, tightly marked Cornwall’s top scorers Kim Sharo and Rachel Miller, and limited their scoring opportunities. It fell to another Garnet defender, junior starter Kelly McRedmond, to save Rye’s bacon. Twice.

Coach Rich Savage sang her praises: “There were two key plays in which Kelly kept Cornwall off the board. In the first half, with two minutes left to play, Tatiana came off her line to make a save and the ball got past her. Kelly was there and was able to clear the ball of the line.”

Kelly McRedmond

“Then, as the second half started, Cornwall came out with a tremendous amount of energy. They were attacking us and creating some good scoring chances. Their fans were already celebrating, thinking a shot was going into our goal, when Kelly flew back and hit a one-time volley to clear the ball. She was clearly our defensive player of the game.”

With 11 minutes remaining, top scorer Lia Bellizzi nearly tallied on a free kick, but Cornwall’s goalie made a leaping save. Then, with the clock ticking down and the tension mounting, midfielder Carter Talgo fielded a typically strong throw-in from Benincasa and converted it for the only goal of the game.

Amanda Benincasa

“Amanda had a perfect throw,” said Savage, “and Carter, who was working on her long shots during the week, kept her head down and hit a rocket from 30 yards out.”

Four-time Sectional champs Cornwall (13-5) kept coming, so Savage pulled Bellizzi back to the center of midfield to help Rye hold its 1-0 lead. The strategy worked. Note: this was Rye’s fourth straight shutout in post-season play.

Senior co-captain and scoring hero Carter Talgo summed it up well. ”Cornwall is a very strong team with fast forwards and strong defenders. They gave us a run for our money, but we just didn’t stop. After Vania went down, it made us angry and focused. Coach Savage’s philosophy is, ‘If you get fouled, score; don’t retaliate, just put the ball in the back of the net.’”

She continued, “Seeing Vania leave for the hospital made us want the win even more, mostly for her. We stepped it up and put pressure on their defense. When we got that late throw-in in the attacking third of the field. I knew where I had to be. Amanda launched it all the way to the middle of the field. I trapped it and shot. It was the boost our team needed to step up our game.”

Senior co-captain Lia Bellizzi added: “We’re all so happy and I’m especially proud of the team for hustling to the very last minute.  Cornwall was extremely physical but we worked harder and that showed in the result.  I think our team is really motivated and ready to get results at States!”

Savage smiled. “It was another great day for the Rye Girls Soccer program.”

The Garnets reached the Regional title game via back-to-back shutout wins, defeating Somers 2-0 at Yorktown High School for the Section 1 Class A championship, and then toppling a packed-in Owego side 1-0 four days later in Endicott, on the other side of Binghamton, when another monster throw-in by Amanda Benincasa bounced off a defender’s head and into her goal.

Rye will now advance to the State Final Four at SUNY Cortland Friday, November 19, at 2:30 p.m. against Section 5 champion Pittsford-Mendon The team will leave school the day before to register for the tournament and get in a practice on the field. “Pittsford-Mendon is a very strong team,” Saunders said. “We’ll need to bring our best game.”

If they win, the Garnets will play 24 hours later on the same field in hopes of becoming champions of New York.

— Melanie Cane

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