By ADAM SHINDER
MAYFIELD — Just get the ball toward the net and see what happens.
After 91-plus minutes of scoreless soccer played in whipping wind Sunday night, that’s all Mayfield junior midfielder John Fancher wanted to do — just get the ball into the box and see if the Panthers could finally put an end to their nail-biting Section II Class C quarterfinal against the Cambridge Indians.
So, when the ball bounced toward him on the right wing about 25 yards from the goal, Fancher struck it with the outside of his right boot and it knuckled in the air, eluding the outstretched right arm of Cambridge goalkeeper Cory Oldham to give Mayfield a dramatic, 1-0 win and send the Panthers to the sectional finals for the first time since their Class C championship season of 2004.
“I kind of initially meant to cross it,” Fancher said. “I just put it hard towards the goal, and I found the back of the net. I just wanted to get the ball near the goal, put pressure on the goalie.”
Fancher’s goal came moments after Jared Albertin nearly gave Mayfield (16-1-1) the win with a blast from outside the box that hit the crossbar and bounced off Oldham, but somehow stayed out of the goal.
However, Albertin’s shot was exactly what Mayfield coach Jon Caraco wanted to see — a little more aggression in the Panthers’ shot selection after more than 90 minutes of their usually slick passing game being stifled by Cambridge’s physical, disciplined defense.
“We talked about it halftime, we talked about it at the end of the game, we talked about it when I subbed (Albertin) out in overtime that we just had to start hitting the ball,” Mayfield coach Jon Caraco said. “We had to test their keeper.”
Mayfield held a possession advantage for most of the blustery evening, but a combination of Cambridge’s defensive organization and the heavy wind wreaking havoc on the ball whenever it was in the air kept the Panthers out of rhythm. They found their passing lanes clogged up, Cambridge dealt well with Mayfield’s frequent attempts to get the ball wide and cross it into the box and, until overtime came around, the Panthers weren’t willing to let long-distance shots fly.
“Cambridge, the meain scouting report we had for them was that they were a very aggressive team and a very sound defensive team,” Caraco said. “They came with a sound defensive game plan and they executed really well. My guys, with every pass, if we beat one guy, there was another guy right there. It took us a long time to adjust.”
Cambridge threatened with a number of quick counterattacks, forcing Anthony Brandow into six key saves — though most of them came on long-distance shots that he handled without much trouble. The Panthers’ biggest defensive test came with about 18 minutes left in regulation, when a scramble in the box resulted in a shot that Brandow missed, but Panthers defender Tommy Gates cleared away from the goal line.
That set the table for Fancher to play the hero in overtime by not playing the percentages.
“We had to test the keeper and see what he could do,” Caraco said. “John Fancher, he just hit one. Let’s be honest, it’s not a high-percentage shot, but it only had to go in once.”
Fancher’s goal earned the Panthers a spot in the semifinals, where they’ll take on Western Athletic Conference rival Galway Tuesday at 5 p.m. at Schuylerville High School, with the winner advancing to Saturday’s championship match in Colonie against either Maple Hill or Lake George.
The Panthers beat Galway in a pair of tight games during the regular season, and the sixth-seeded Golden Eagles were one of the teams Caraco was wariest of when the bracket was unveiled last week.
“It’s two teams that are similar skill-wise and talent-wise. You don’t want to play them three times,” Caraco said. “When we saw the brackets, there were several teams I had earmarked that I’d like to avoid for as long as possible, Galway was in that list. That said, I’m glad we don’t see them until the semifinals.”
Contact ADAM SHINDER at [email protected]