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Bulldogs boys soccer confident into playoffs, after play of late

A strong finish, including a pair of ties against Williamsville teams, gave Hamburg plenty to be happy about, going into the start of the postseason on Monday.

That feeling helped the Bulldogs avoid getting down on themselves, when they trailed 1 – 0 to Iroquois, early in the second half. As a result, they scored the equalizer with 25 minutes left in the game and then advanced in the Class A-1 Tournament with a 2 – 1 overtime win on Oct. 21.

Sixth-seeded Hamburg would need to continue its strong play, as it went into a quarterfinal on Oct. 23 at No. 3 Sweet Home, one of the few teams that run away with wins against the 9 – 5 – 3 Bulldogs.

First-year head coach Tony Schiappa credited a 1 – 1 tie with state-ranked Williamsville East last week as his team’s biggest boost. That broke East’s 23-game winning streak and came just a few days after a 1 – 1 tie with Erie County Interscholastic Division II power South. Hamburg is unbeaten in its last four; its last loss was 4 – 1 to Sweet Home.

“Our confidence has been really sky high after the East game,” said Schiappa, who took over a team that went 8 – 25 – 1 the past two seasons. “For us to stop their streak, the kids really believe and it gives us confidence going into a game against a team like Sweet Home.”

Senior Zach Dake scored his sixth goal of the season less than 10 minutes into overtime, for the game-winner. Leading scorer Shane Greene had scored the equalizer, the junior’s 12th of the season.

“I knew it was just a matter of time for Zach before he scored a huge goal for us,” Schiappa said. “He and Shane have both stepped up and been big contributors.”

Against South, Greene scored on a cross from senior Sam Heeter, to put Hamburg up 1 – 0. After South scored the tying goal 5 minutes into the second half, Hamburg goalie Brandon Mecklenburg preserved the tie with a penalty kick save, near the end of regulation.

Sophomore Pat McGowan tied the game against East at 1 – 1, finishing off a pass from Dake, who recorded his team-leading eighth assist. Mecklenberg finished with 11 saves and sophomore Will Smith led a strong backline, along with Josh Franklin, Jordyn Bellitto and Nick Szabala. Schiappa said it has been a pleasure working with Smith, who the coach said should turn into an All-Western New York-caliber player.

“The East game proved that we can compete against anyone as long as we play for one another and stay focused tactically for the entire game,” said Schiappa, who added that the team’s performance in that game was especially important to him, being a 2007 East graduate.

Sweet Home will continue to present its mismatches, but Schiappa said he will play this game differently. “We haven’t been able to contain them, but I think we’ll go into this game a little more prepared,” he noted. “We’re not going to back down from anyone. It’s been a resilient group.”

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