MIDDLETOWN, N.Y. -- Late last week, Daniel Solomon, a junior who hasn't been able to crack a senior-rich Wheatley starting lineup, delivered a message to coach Steve Cadet.
"I told him, if he puts me in, I'll put it away," he said.
Locked in a tight battle with Clinton Central in a state Class B semifinal game Saturday, Solomon got his chance, scoring off a pass from Jonathan Kowalczyk with 16:54 left to lead Wheatley to a 1-0 win at Middletown High School. Wheatley (13-3-2) plays Broadalbin-Perth for the championship at 10 a.m. Sunday at Middletown High School.
A note to the doubters: heed Solomon's wisdom.
"They know who our better players are, we know who their better players are," Cadet said. "A game like this, one of the role players has to step up, and it's him today. Any other year and he'd be a starter."
With the victory, Wheatley knocks off a Clinton Central team that entered a perfect 20-0. Solomon said the difference in the teams' records added some more fuel to the fire.
"Friday night at the ceremony they announced our record and this team was sitting in front of us and they laughed at it," he said. "I was so mad. I turned to my team and said, 'It's over tomorrow.'"
But the game was anything but a rout.
Both sides had several scoring chances, but each played tough defense fronted by stellar goal keeping. Wheatley's Eric Orologio made nine saves and is the only junior among the team's starters.
"He's a leader," Cadet said. "He's always talking. He's always got everybody moving, everybody organized. And his kicks are huge for us. If we get trapped in and he gets it, it's going 70 yards. It just kind of relieves that pressure for us a lot."
But Wheatley has also cranked the pressure up on itself, winning its last five games by just a single goal. The ingredients for another close call were present again Saturday, with the Wildcats not getting their offense in stride until late in the first half. With a minute to go, Landon Baker and Kowalczyk each had good looks, but came up empty.
"We thought if there were four or five more minutes, the goal was coming," Cadet said. "We knew they were a good team, but we felt like they got rattled. I don't think they expected our level of play and our speed of play, and we said just keep pushing at them that way."
Wheatley dominated both possession and good scoring chances in the second half, but it was just a matter of finally breaking through. Solomon's shot took care of that, and then the defense took over.
With 30 seconds left, Orologio was one-on-one with Nicholas Deyulio. Deyulio lined a shot at the center of the net, but Orologio got in front of it, squelching Clinton Central's last scoring opportunity.
"Really I just react," Orologio said. "I don't pay attention to the clock that much. Right after I made that save is when I looked. And I just started celebrating."