HOMER — The Hammond girls soccer team’s latest foray into state final four competition proved to be a frustrating one Saturday for senior Kelsey Bennett and her teammates.
The Red Devils’ season came to an abrupt end in a 3-0 loss to Avoca of Section 5 in a physical state Class D semifinal on a clear and cold day at Homer High School.
Junior Selina Jud scored three goals, all in the second half, to propel the Tigers (20-2) to the win.
Hammond, which is ranked No. 2 in the state in Class D, finished its season at 19-2.
“It feels good to be back,” said Hammond’s Kelsey Bennett, a senior forward who played on the Red Devils’ previous state final four team when she was a freshman. “We had wonderful chances, we could have won this round; we should have won this game.”
Hammond hung with its opponent throughout the first half before Avoca broke through with the three goals within a span of 14 minutes after halftime.
“Especially in the first half, we had our chances,” Hammond senior defender Brooke Manning said. “But they’re a good team; it’s frustrating, very frustrating.”
“They scored, we didn’t and that was the difference,” Hammond coach Shawn Dack said. “That was a tough game.”
After the Red Devils generated several scoring chances in the first half, the Tigers pounced to take the lead for good on Jud’s first goal six minutes into the second half as she sent in a long-range shot into the upper left side of the net.
“When we scored the first goal, that kind of broke the ice for us,” said Jud, who is an exchange student from Switzerland.
Avoca struck again with 24:08 remaining in regulation as Jud headed in a corner-kick feed from Riley Stowe for a 2-0 advantage.
“After they scored, we just kind of gave up,” Manning said about Avoca’s second goal. “They’re a really tough team.”
Jud completed her hat trick nearly five minutes later by breaking free and scoring an unassisted tally for a three-goal lead with 19:20 left.
“They’re good, they have good passes, good crosses,” Bennett said of Avoca. “(Jud) is a phenomenal player, but we could have beat them.”
Avoca, which is playing in its first state final four in girls soccer, advanced to face Section 3 champion Poland in the Class D state final at 10:30 a.m. at SUNY Cortland.
“It’s awesome,” Jud said. “Like Avoca is a little town and it’s great to have a chance to win a state championship and also be a part of this.”
“They’re very talented and I wish the best of luck to them,” Manning said. “I just wish we could have played better.”
Poland, the top-ranked team in the state, defeated Section 2 champ Northville, 5-0, in the earlier semifinal.
Hammond made its second state semifinal appearance in four years as it also reached this round in 2016.
“It’s not enough, though,” Dack added.
Goalkeeper Alyvia Crosby finished with seven saves for Hammond, while her Avoca counterpart Jolien Gay also finished with seven saves.
“We didn’t take care of our opportunities,” Dack said. “We had chances, but we didn’t put them in.”
The Red Devils were scored upon for the first time in three postseason games.
After Hammond blanked Edwards-Knox, 2-0, to claim Section 10’s Class D championship on Nov. 9, it edged Section 7 champion, 1-0, in a state regional final last Saturday, with Bennett scoring the goal.
“It was very frustrating the whole game, it’s just the fact that we could do better,” Bennett said of Saturday’s outcome. “I’m proud we made it this far, we gave it our all for all of the season and I’m proud of what we’ve done.”
In its previous state semifinal appearance, Hammond lost 3-0 to eventual state Class D champion Wheatland-Chili in Cortland.
“We could have scored on our shots,” added Bennett, who totaled 40 goals this season. “I had shots over (the net), I could have had goals. ... But I couldn’t ask for a better team, my team, honestly.
“I know they’ll come back next season better than before.”
Over the course of this soccer season, the Hammond team has been dedicating its games to retired coach and athletic director Tom Chapman, who is undergoing hospice care at home but continued to regularly attend Red Devils games.
“I’m very proud of us all,” Manning added. “We’re close as a team, we’re also close as a community.”