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Lake Placid boys slip past Saranac Lake

Lake Placid goalkeeper Jack Armstrong leaps in traffic to snag a corner kick during action Saturday against Saranac Lake. Also pictured are Anders Stanton of the Blue Bombers and two Red Storm attackers. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

LAKE PLACID — Area bragging rights are always on the line whenever the Saranac Lake and Lake Placid soccer teams square off. On Saturday, a chance to host a playoff game was also thrown into the mix of the prizes, and the Blue Bombers boys were rewarded with a 1-0 victory over the Red Storm.

A goal by senior captain Matt Brandes midway through the opening half put Lake Placid on top 1-0, and from there the Blue Bombers held on for dear life on the way to winning their fourth straight match to improve to 4-3-1.

When area high school teams kicked off their abbreviated, late-starting schedules, there had been no plans to hold any type championship tournament after the end of the regular season. But during the past week, a decision had been made to move forward with a four-team competition that would include a semifinal and final round. With Saturday’s victory Lake Placid took a step closer toward earning a second seed and a semifinal game at home, which is expected to take place next week.

The Blue Bombers may have been outplayed and out chanced by the Red Storm, but they came out on top where it counted — on the scoreboard. Saranac Lake finished with a 12-9 edge in shots but couldn’t get one past Jack Armstrong, one of the top goalkeepers in high school soccer in the North Country. The junior has let in just one goal in Lake Placid’s past four games, and Saturday marked the third time in eight days he anchored a 1-0 Blue Bombers win.

“Armstrong was in goal for another clean sheet, and we needed him to be good in goal,” Lake Placid coach Stuart Hemsley said. “We were poor all over the field. We were second to almost every ball. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, and we were lucky.”

Lake Placid was especially fortunate late when Saranac Lake’s Colter Cheney-Seymour drilled shot from the upper left corner of the penalty box with less than two minutes left in regulation that bounced off the crossbar. It was followed by a shot off the rebound that was saved by Armstrong.

“Too bad our kids didn’t get the outcome they were playing for,” said Saranac Lake coach Brad Rafferty, who added, “I’m happy with our performance, just disappointed with the outcome.

“I think we owned possession in the second half, and it was good to see our kids in control right to the end trying to get that goal,” Rafferty continued. “I think Lake Placid gave us a hard time with getting scoring chances. They defended well as a group. I think defensively, they packed it in playing for a 1-0 win. Usually you only get three or four really good scoring chances in a game, and you have convert if you want to come out on top.”

For the second game in a row, Brandes came up from his sweeper position to bury the game-winner on a set play, and both scores were set up by Joose Kahkonen. On Wednesday, Brandes was on the receiving end of a Kahkonen corner kick and converted for a 1-0 victory over Beekmantown. Against Saranac Lake, Brandes gained control of a direct kick from his senior teammate and booted the ball past Nate McCarthy 19:52 into the opening half for what stood up as the winning goal.

Kahkonen also banged a shot off the crossbar earlier in the contest.

The rivals finished in a 2-2 deadlock on Oct. 14 on the Red Storm’s pitch in their first meeting, and with the loss, Saranac Lake dropped to 1-3-1 and all but saw its chances of hosting a semifinal match evaporate. The Red Storm has two more regular season games remaining, both on the road, with a trip to Saranac Central on Wednesday and a scheduled match at Chazy Friday.

Saranac Lake and Lake Placid will join AuSable Valley and Saranac Central in the four-team playoff with semifinals unofficially scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 11 and the championship game following on Saturday, Nov. 14. The highest seed remaining with host the title tilt, and currently, Saranac Central is in the driver’s seat for the top seed.

Hemsley said his team struggled on defense. He said the ball and Saranac Lake attackers got behind his defenders on too many occasions.

“We need to be more organized,” said Hemsley, whose Blue Bombers have two more road matches remaining in the regular season. “The best three parts of the game was the goal and the two mask breaks. They gave us a chance to regroup. Saranac Lake really put the pressure on us.”

Lake Placid travels to face Boquet Valley on Wednesday and plays at AuSable Valley Friday.

Saturday turned out to be another tight contest where Saranac Lake came up short on the scoreboard. Rafferty, however, said that his players know they can compete with anybody.

“It’s been tough because it’s a too short of a season to have so many closes losses,” he said. “We’re right in there if we play well. It’s just too bad that it doesn’t look like we’ll be playing at home again.”

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