In titanic Class D Finals clash, Sardina, Sanasith set up sensational game-winning score as No. 2 Fillmore captures 4th title in 5 years with 2-1 OT win over No. 1 Naples in instant classic
By CHRIS BROOKS, managing editor, wellsvillesports.com
AVON — The thrill of the chase is an intoxicating one. Come Sectional time, when you know that you’re so close to reaching that ultimate goal, it makes the taste for glory that much sweeter and the feeling of instant gratification much more exhilarating.
It’s a sensation that has grown on the Eagles of Fillmore boys soccer program for quite some time. Even while possessing the biggest targets on their backs not only in Section V, but in the entire Empire State itself a year removed from their historic campaign.
Defending their throne has not been an easy task by any means, as the Eagles had to ward off a second strong challenge from No. 7 Marion to begin their playoff trek. Then, their most recent affair saw them outlast the No. 3 Northstar Christian Knights in a battle of wits from start to finish to earn their fifth straight trip to the Finals.
Now, a Friday night up north in Avon was a beautiful one to crown a champion. For Fillmore, they were pinned up against another fellow unbeaten in Class D — No. 1 Naples, winners of 19 straight. And like their previous battles across the postseason already, this one with the Big Green was the most arduous of the bunch.
With the grandstands packed full to take in the war between two teams with a combined record of 38-0 on the season, on the battlefield in front of them, the championship brick that has waited ever so patiently from within in the wings, was now firmly hanging in the balance of what would turn out to be a galvanic and breathtaking spectacle to behold.
From start to finish, Fillmore and Naples gave it everything they had. The blood, the sweat, the tears, in a battle that would ultimately require overtime after regulation time drew to its completion. But, in a game such as this, would you really want it any other way?
After the Eagles and Big Green connected on goals back in the first half, it kept the 1-1 deadlock secured across the entire second half, while the defenses during that time would stand their ground. Going into overtime, one team tilted the momentum in their direction just enough to permanently keep it there.
Because of that, another one of those instant classic memories was created by perhaps one of the most amazing, electrifying goals you may see this season.
Henry Sardina and Layton Sanasith were the two magicians performing their team’s biggest magic trick.
With just over four minutes removed off the clock in overtime, and a megaton of momentum to use in their favor, the Eagles of Fillmore captained a dominant start. On what would be their final offensive rush against the Big Green, Sardina jolted past the Big Green defense and let loose a gorgeously fed kick from just inside the far corner that sailed straight onto the Naples net.
With the opportunity to win the game for the Eagles, Sanasith was the first to react, as he eyeballed the ball sent along by his fellow senior teammate, leaping right over top of the Big Green keeper and headed the ball down directly at the ground, taking one bounce before slithering its way into the net for the golden goal, assisting Fillmore back up to the mountain top with an exceptional 2-1 overtime victory over the Big Green to claim the Class D Championship.
With the Section’s grand prize now within their possession, it marks the fourth time in the last five seasons that the Eagles (20-0) have come away as champions once again. But it’s one of those feelings that head coach Jarrett Vosburg doesn’t mind experiencing one bit, given the program’s pedigree and rich history since their reign first came into full fruition across the last several seasons.
In short, the feeling never gets old one bit.
“The answer is no, this never gets old,” he said. “I can’t say enough things about how fortunate we are at Fillmore. To have experienced these moments repeatedly over the last five, 10 years. It’s really incredible. You never get sick of quality competition, it’s just incredible, incredible stuff. It really comes down to consistency. I have an incredible group of assistant coaches in Jamie Mullen, my mentor and best friend, Jordan Mullen, my best friend, Mike Witkowski, another best friend. Mike and Jamie are second and third fathers to me. They built this program to be what it is, and I’ve tried my darndest to keep it what it is. What they provide and what the seniors the past four years bring, is the real difference maker.”
In order to do that though, the Eagles would have to stay composed on all fronts. But through the opening sequences of the game, the Big Green was able to work their way through some early pressure from the No. 2 seeds, doing just that behind Matt Lincoln’s lead-off score with 10 minutes after the opening kick.
The send-in near midfield squibbed straight through a crowd directly in front of the Fillmore net for Lincoln to grab, wiggling his way free for his shot to the far post and hitting the netting next to it to finish it off.
All of a sudden, the Eagles now found themselves in an early 1-0 hole to the top seeds.
But the deficit would not faze the defending Class D State Champions one bit. And it was a specific element that prompted a discussion between Vosburg and his Eagles in the huddle before even taking the field.
“The truth is, we said in pregame that we’ve been here before. We understand what it means when we get down a goal. We’ve experienced this before, against Bolivar-Richburg in our own League, we’ve been there with Marion, with Arkport/Canaseraga and now we’ve been there with Naples,” Vosburg said. “To have that experience with a group of guys, you can’t recreate that. You can’t recreate a core of eight seniors that have been in the State Finals and have played a lot of meaningful minutes in that particular style of game.
Vosburg continued, noting that “We played our best soccer this season being down 1-0. We had so many quality chances and we put the pressure on. There is a lot of pressure when you’re undefeated and you’re the State Champion. No matter how much you try to put that away, it still exists because you’re dealing with kids. You can’t say enough about the fact that they grew up and became young men tonight.”
Ever since the Naples goal, the Eagles began to knock on the door loudly in the offensive zone, garnering chance after chance to continue puncturing the Big Green defense with their scoring opportunities.
Perhaps some of the best ones to strike with, stemmed from the efforts of Eben Schilke, who relentlessly jockeyed across the midfield to pry himself free of Naples’ grasp.
As a result, he plastered the net with a pair of shots that hit directly off the post before a third nearly had enough speed to sneak under the crossbar above CJ Fuller in net, but it would ultimately deflect out of bounds and out of harm’s way.
Time kept whittling away in the opening half, but with 1:47 left to play from within it, Fillmore was able to get on the board with the help of Schilke and Henry Sardina, as the former took a long run in before shifting a pass to Sardina. With possession, Sardina made one big turn towards the Naples net and fired it straight home next to the far post from the far sidelines to tie the game.
In the second half, it was essentially a war of attrition across the entire midfield.
Both Fillmore and Naples ripped and roared in every direction to try and formulate as many chances as they could on one another, but the defenses on both ends were simply remarkable, as regulation time wound down to the end without any more damage navigating its way onto the board.
For Vosburg and the team’s efforts occupying the midfield, it began with some key playmakers like Schilke, Zach Sisson and Jack Cool, all having a helping hand in holding Naples at a standstill while maintaining the momentum going into overtime.
“Honestly, it comes down to the guys in the center winning battles,” Vosburg said. “Zach Sisson was an absolute animal tonight, I don’t think he lost a 50/50 battle all night, Jack Cool, playing on a bum ankle, was absolutely phenomenal. Eben Schilke, a guy who is undersized a lot of the time, but comes through and just scraps and fights, and becomes a playmaker. There were some incredible things going on there, and even the forwards were coming back and winning battles, and our defense was pulling up. A big point of emphasis was not getting stretched out tonight. Naples spreads the field really well, but we compacted ourselves really well to sustain that.”
Everything was leaning Fillmore’s way going into the first 15 minute session of golden goal overtime action with the Big Green, and they unleashed their will right from the opening kick, pinning Naples deep and keeping the pressure on across the first four minutes and change, leading up to the spectacular finish the Eagles were able to garner.
Just 4:15 gone, the Eagles ended the game with a magical sequence conducted by Sardina in the far corner, as he picked up a beautifully driven ball down from his defenders in the back. With the ball in his possession, Sardina used his footwork to finesse his way around the opposing defense before letting a shot fly straight to the front.
Right on the doorstep was Sanasith against the near post, as he leaped up and head-butted the ball straight down to the ground next to the Naples keeper, and into the net to officially clinch the Class D Championship for the Eagles — their third Section V title in a row.
“We emphasize over and over again that the corner is our friend,” said Vosburg. “The more times we get to the corner, the better off we are. To see them execute the game plan is something you dream about as a coach. To see Layton have the courage to get in there and finish it off with a head, it’s just an incredible goal, an incredible moment for a program with a rich history of incredible moments. You’re on Cloud 9 tonight, and that’s something you just can’t replicate.”
At the end of the night, Fillmore went on to outshoot Naples by a 14-4 total count, with Ryan Vedder picking up his biggest win of the season in between the posts for the Eagles with three humongous saves.
With the victory over Naples now in their back pockets, the Eagles of Fillmore have now punched their tickets directly to the Class D Far West Regional the following weekend, as they now begin preparations to take on either Ellicottville or North Collins, in a 7:30 p.m. first kick at West Seneca West, next Friday night.
CHRIS BROOKS PHOTOS: