By Jeanne Sager
JEFFERSONVILLE They were two teams from opposite ends of the spectrum.
But what Cornwall (2-1) brought to the Sullivan West soccer field in experience on Thursday afternoon, the Bulldogs matched with sheer willpower.
The Bulldogs lost their season opener to the visiting Dragons 3-1, but they didn’t give up until the final buzzer sounded.
“They always give us a tough game,” Cornwall Coach John Mandia said of the Bulldogs. “The games are physical, but not really dirty.”
In fact, the Dragons’ scored two of their three goals because of SW errors and returned the favor by committing a penalty against Bulldog senior Justin Armstrong that guaranteed SW (0-1) its only tally of the game.
First to put a score on the board was Cornwall senior forward Harrison Larkin, who booted the ball into the SW goal on a penalty kick shortly into the first half. A SW handball in the goal box gave the Dragons the shot at the goal.
The Bulldogs were rewarded minutes later when Armstrong’s long charge up the field with the ball was stopped by a push from a Dragon defender.
SW sophomore Lucas Bauer took the penalty kick, shooting it directly past Cornwall keeper Mike Schaefer to tie the score at 1-1.
Schaefer staved off two other SW shots, compared to 13 saves by Bulldog goalie Logan Grishaber.
But Grishaber wasn’t able to stop the well-placed kick of Dragons’ senior Joe LaGrutta. With less than three minutes remaining on the clock in the first half, LaGrutta took advantage of a pass from sophomore teammate Marques Mayoras. LaGrutta sent the ball sailing past Grishaber’s outstretched hands to put the Dragons back on top.
It’s where they would stay, despite a Bulldog defense that stepped up in the second half, dramatically decreasing the shots allowed at the home goal.
The second Larkin score of the evening came in the second half this time off of a direct kick, earned for a Bulldog foul.
“For the first game, overall I was pleased with the performance,” said SW Coach Debbie Owen. “We definitely have some weak spots to work.
“But Cornwall’s an ‘A’ school,” she continued, referring to the fact that Cornwall’s large enrollment means that it is classified as a Class A school by New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) standards. “They have students who are soccer players. We have athletes who happen to play soccer.”
Owen was referring, of course, to a common phenomenon in the larger districts of Orange County kids play one sport year-round while SW students often play two or three sports, changing uniforms with the season.
Mandia said he’s not familiar enough with the make-up of SW to make a judgment on the program, but said similar schools often have a challenge building a boys’ soccer team.
“If football is king, the soccer program suffers,” he said. “We’re not a physically big team size-wise, but usually when we come to Sullivan West we’re a little bit taller, a little bit bigger.”
Mandia was glad to see his team keep up their drive on the Bulldogs’ goal. His team didn’t let their advantages go to their head, he said, and they had good ball control.
“We’re not quite that lucky to have that talent base,” Owen admitted.
There is talent in the SW district, she said, but the boys don’t have the ability to play year-round, nor do they have the length of time spent as a team that the Dragons have.
The Bulldogs’ strength was evident Thursday afternoon they work hard.
“They’re gutsy, they’re determined,” Owen said.