Bombers continue surprise run

Tyler Hinckley connects for the game-winning goal in overtime Saturday in the NYSPHSAA Class C regional final against Maple Hill at Colonie High School. (Photo — Alicia Brandes)

LAKE PLACID — An amazing season and an improbable run continues.

On Saturday, the Lake Placid boys soccer team did again as it took down another favored opponent in a magical postseason run to reach the state final four.

Facing Section II champion Maple Hill in a state Class C quarterfinal playoff match at Colonie High School, the Blue Bombers netted the only goal of the contest when Tyler Hinkley buried a shot 9 minutes, 31 seconds into overtime to send his team to the state final four tournament for the first time in school history. The goal was set up by freshman Matthew Brandes.

Lake Placid struggled to a 4-7 regular-season record but has now won five straight playoff matches during a campaign where the Blue Bombers may have been fortunate to escape from their own section with a sixth straight title.

For the Blue Bombers, the road block has always been the match following the Section VII, Class C final, and this season, they’ve been able to pick off two higher-seeded opponents in regional action to advance to their next challenge, which will be a semifinal match Saturday against Section V champion Byron-Bergen, a team that owns a 17-1-1 record and is ranked first in Class C in the New York Sports Writers Association poll.

Joaquin Benavides controls the ball through a trio of Maple Hill players during Saturday’s NYSPHSAA Class C quarterfinal game at Colonie High School. (Photo — Alicia Brandes)

The five-time defending sectional champion Blue Bombers started their run as the fourth-seed in the Section VII tournament, and gave up two goals in their opening playoff match, which was a 5-2 victory over AuSable Valley. But since then, Lake Placid has given up just a single goal during regulation in four playoff matches while winning twice in shootouts to claim the Section VII crown and then prevailing 1-0 over St. Lawrence Central in a regional semifinal.

With Saturday’s victory, the Blue Bombers avenged a loss to Maple Hill in the quarterfinals a season ago.

“We went into our own playoffs as with a fourth-place ranking, and two-and-a-half weeks later, we’re seeded fourth again in the state,” an elated Lake Placid head coach Stuart Hemsley said. “In our wildest dreams, we would have never thought we’re going to the state final four. Our guys have certainly gone above and beyond anywhere they were expected to go.”

Saturday’s victory upped the Blue Bombers overall record to 9-7, but Hemsley said his team had shown steady improvement leading up the playoffs, and the young Blue Bombers are continuing to learn during their remarkable run through the postseason.

“It’s joyful when you win any game, and when you lose, there are lessons to be learned,” he continued. “Unlike previous years when we had kids playing who grew up together, this team, they weren’t together until the start of this season. They’ve grown together along the way, they’ve learned along the way, and especially during this playoff run, they’ve been like sponges.”

Hemsley said his defense, anchored by senior fullback Jaso Hannula and junior goalkeeper Jacob Novik, has been the main force propelling the Blue Bombers to the state final four.

“In our last three playoff games, we’ve faced teams whose top scorers have more points than our entire team has all season,” Hemsley said. “My team is built on defense. We conceded one goal in regulation, and we were able to dig deep and come back from that.

“We didn’t have a winning record in the regular season, but the slate’s wiped clean when it’s playoff time,” Hemsley added. “We got healthy, we got hungry and we’ve kept winning. I want us to win our next game, and that’s when we might meet our maker, but until that happens, we’re just going to continue to do what we’re doing, and that’s worked. We’re looking forward to the final four. It’s new territory. The kids are so excited. They all have constant smiles on their faces.”

The final four tournament is taking place at Middletown High School. Lake Placid and Byron-Bergen/Elba will square off in semifinal action starting at 1:30 p.m.