Byram Hills captures league title
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Section 1's preeminent boys soccer program added another bullet point to its resume on Tuesday afternoon.
Byram Hills (12-2-1) battled host Port Chester to a 0-0 draw to capture the Conference 3-League A title. The Bobcats will likely be the No. 1 seed in the upcoming Section 1 Class A tournament, which gets underway with the outbracket round on Thursday.
"We have a lot of unfinished business from last year after getting knocked out in the semifinals against Port Chester," Byram Hills keeper Ryan Golden said. "We want to win sectionals and then our goal is to win the last game of the year in states."
Such aspirations aren't pie-in-the-sky for Byram Hills. After all, the program has dominated Section 1 competition over the past six years, winning four sectional titles while amassing an overall record of 121-14-11.
Port Chester, however, has been a thorn in the Bobcats' side. The Rams (13-1-2) are undefeated against Byram Hills the last two seasons, going 3-0-2 to shake up the Class A power structure. Port Chester also won the early-season game between the two rivals.
"I'd like to say it's a rivalry, but they keep beating us," Byram Hills coach Matt Allen said with a laugh. "So I'm not sure how much of a rivalry it is. (Port Chester) coach (John) Cafaldo does a great job."
Not surprisingly, the respect is mutual.
"They have a great team over there," Cafaldo said. "We try to model ourselves after them."
In the latest chapter of the rivalry, pleasantries were relegated to the sideline. The action on the pitch was red-hot and could have been mistaken for a playoff game. Both squads emptied their respective tanks on Port Chester's muddy grass field, engaging in an exciting brand of end-to-end soccer.
As it turned out, both goalies stole the show. Golden made a game-high 10 saves, while Port Chester's Jose Gonzalez stopped seven shots. It marked the 11th shutout of the season for Golden, who doubles as a standout basketball player in the winter.
"He's just a great athlete," Allen said of Golden. "He's an all-around athlete and has great instincts. The one thing is our defense has great confidence when he plays. I think he's made roughly five or six breakaway saves. That's kind of been the norm for us."
For Port Chester, it was more like a nightmare. Golden's breakaway save on Preston Higgins in the 65th minute was the biggest moment of the match. With the Rams throwing everything in their arsenal forward, Higgins snuck behind Byram Hills' defense and looked poised to score a game-winning goal. Golden, of course, had other ideas.
"I just tried to take away the near post and cut off the angle as much as I could," Golden said, describing the play. "I came out a little and tried to hang onto the ball because I couldn't let up a rebound."
Both sides had a myriad of chances over the final 15 minutes, but a goal just wasn't in the cards.
While the Bobcats enter the postseason on a high note, the same can't be said for the Rams. Port Chester had an uneven end to the season, going 0-1-2 over its final three games. They settled for a scoreless tie against Ossining on October 15 and suffered a 1-0 setback to Greeley yesterday. Ultimately, the Greeley loss opened the window for Byram Hills to secure both the league title and top seed in Class A.
"Down the stretch we controlled our own destiny and we slipped up," Cafaldo said. "We needed a win here to win the league. But with the darkness ... what can you do? It was a great game on both sides. We played well and they played well. Unfortunately, we aren't the league champs, but we move on."
Even more concerning, a usually potent Rams' offense was held scoreless for a third straight match. Cafaldo rightly pointed toward the deteriorating field conditions, but he also noted the issue.
"We know that we aren't finishing as much as we should be," he said.
Port Chester — which was upset by Lakeland in last year's Class A sectional final — still has the talent to win a long-sought-after title.
"As long as we are healthy, we know we are a dangerous team," Cafaldo said. "I thought we played a great game today and played much better than we did yesterday and the previous day. I told the guys we have to play this well and even better in the upcoming (playoff) games. Hopefully we get to that fourth game at John Jay-Cross River."
John Jay-Cross River High School will play host to the Section 1 championship games on November 3. Rest-assured, the Bobcats hope to see Port Chester there, too.
"We are looking to play them in the finals," Golden said. "That's our wish. We want to take them down."
Email Isaac Cass at Icass@cablevision.com | Follow him on Twitter @MSGV_Icass