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High School Boys Soccer: St. Francis aims for home playoff game; Section VI playoff overview

Sam Eggleston, who has scored three game-winning goals this year, goes up for a header in a 1-0 win over St. Joe’s. (Photo courtesy of Ron Larson)

Mike Smolinski anticipated an evenly matched Monsignor Martin season and the St. Francis head coach couldn’t have been more on the ball.

It’s been so tight in league play, the Red Raiders have beaten all three league rivals Canisius, Nichols and St. Joe’s in overtime and still were knocked from the MMAA top spot after losing to Canisius 2-0 on Monday (Oct. 22). Just as they’ve beaten all three, the Red Raiders have also lost once to each of the teams.

In a league full of parity, St. Francis sits in second at 4-3-1, falling a game behind Canisius (5-2-1) and with Nichols (3-4-1) still breathing right up their back. St. Joe’s is not far behind at 2-5-1 after the Marauders upset Nichols on Oct. 22.

The teams have become so evenly matched in part because of a new rule that no longer allows elite club players to be a part of their high school soccer program, which cost St. Joe’s three players and Canisius, two.

“All of the games have been close,” said Smolinski, whose team has gone 2-1 against St. Joe’s, 1-1-1 against Canisius and 1-1 against Nichols, which it met in the league season finale on Oct. 24. “It’s a coach’s dream. All you ever ask is just give us a chance...I knew with the new rules, we would have a very good chance to be near the top.”

The Red Raiders have also benefited from balanced scoring and an experienced group of defenders.

After a three-goal game in a 8-0 win over St. Mary’s on Saturday (Oct. 20), Aaron Hayes leads St. Francis with seven goals. Sam Eggelston has netted six goals, including three game-winners. His latest came in a 1-0 win over St. Joe’s on Oct. 17.

Also on offense, Tyler Eister has scored five times this season, while Patrick Schaefer has added four. Adding goals against St. Mary’s were Nick Lenahan, Sean Cook, Eddie Malkiewicz and Tyler Simon.

Senior Jason Jablonski has also scored six goals, in addition to leading the defense playing in the middle. Flanking him on the outside are seniors Brennan Maci and Drew Bassini.

“What I like is the balance,” Smolinski said. “We just don’t rely on one or two guys, we’ve got other players they have to worry about. They all play well as a unit.”

Sophomore Matt Gabalski has stepped into the starting goalkeeper role and notched five shutouts, the latest in that win over St. Joe’s. Smolinski said Gabalski has matured and become the voice of the team.

“None of the guys worry about what class they’re in,” Smolinski said. “They treat each other like equals.”

Even with the loss to Canisius, St. Francis still controls its own destiny in trying to garner a first round home playoff game in the semifinals. A win against Nichols on Oct. 24 would have guaranteed that home game on Sunday (Oct. 28). The final will be a week later (Nov.4) at St. Joe’s.

Smolinski sees the playoffs being just as tight. “I would guess it would come down to overtime,” he said after playing in seven games that needed extra time during the regular season. “I would put my money on that.”

Hamburg, Frontier move on in boys soccer playoffs

Seventh-seeded Hamburg moved past No. 10 McKinley 3-1 in the Class A-1 pre-quarterfinals on Tuesday (Oct. 23). The Bulldogs improved to 6-10-1, after finishing 4-7-1 in ECIC II. They’ll advance to play at No. 2 Grand Island on Thursday (Oct. 25).

Ninth-seeded Frontier bested host No. 8 West Seneca West 2-1 in overtime on a junior Nick Notto goal in the Class AA pre-quarterfinals on Oct. 23. The Falcons improved to 5-10-2 overall after a 2-9-1 ECIC I mark and move on to play Thursday at top-seeded Clarence.

After an opening round bye, second-seeded Lake Shore will host Iroquois or Medina in a Class A-2 quarterfinal on Thursday (Oct. 25). With a win, the Eagles, who were 12-3-1 overall and 8-3-1 in ECIC III, good for second, will move on to play in a semifinal Saturday (Oct. 27) in Hamburg.

The Eagles finished the regular season with a win and loss in a pair of 2-1 games. In beating Cheektowaga on Oct. 17 during Senior Night, junior Wade Bergum scored a goal and added an assist on a tally from his freshman brother, AJ Bergum. In losing two days later to Amherst, Mike Kushner scored the lone Eagles’ goal.

After an opening round bye, fifth-seeded Eden will play at No. 4 Akron in a Class B-2 quarterfinal on Friday (Oct. 26). The Raiders were 9-3-1 overall and 7-2-1 in ECIC IV, good for second, during the regular season. They finished strong with a pair of 3-0 wins over division foe Tonawanda and Class D’s top seed North Collins.

The Eagles of North Collins won’t play in a playoff game until the sectional final on Friday (Nov. 2) at Pioneer. Class D only has three teams, Ellicottville at No. 2 and West Valley, No. 3. The Eagles finished the regular season 12-2 overall and 11-1 in CCAA III, good for a first-place tie with Maple Grove.

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