By Kevin Prise
CICERO — Barker field hockey has seen plenty of success in sectional and regional play in recent years, to the point where the Lady Raiders have started to shift their gaze toward one day earning a coveted state championship.
Barker came up a little bit short in Saturday afternoon's Class C state semifinal matchup against Cazenovia, but by no means looked overmatched. The Lady Raiders battled to a scoreless tie through regulation, and through the fist overtime. Cazenovia's Ashley Kent scored off a penalty corner with six minutes left in double-overtime, and the Lady Lakers won 1-0 in a defensive-minded contest at Cicero-North Syracuse HS.
The goal of a state title will not be reached this year, but the Barker program proved on Saturday that it can compete with anyone. After all, Cazenovia won state titles in both 2010 and 2011.
Barker goaltender Caitlyn Mason was the star of the game and was honored accordingly after the game, named to the all-tournament team. Mason made a series of kick saves and diving saves throughout the afternoon, particularly late in regulation and in the first overtime, thwarting a series of penalty corner opportunities awarded to Cazenovia.
The Lady Lakers had the pronounced advantage in time of possession and time spent in the offensive zone, but Mason's work ensured that Barker would have the opportunity to emerge victorious if it could find the back of the net.
But unfortunately for the Lady Raiders, Cazenovia was just a bit too strong defensively. The Lady Lakers stayed aggressive all over the field and kept Barker from generating much of an attack, despite spirited efforts from Lady Raider leaders like Olivia Denny, Melissa Grosshans, and Heather Mason, as well as tough play from the likes of Gabby Clare, Erin Greenwald, and Alexandra VeRost.
The game started nearly an hour later than the scheduled 3:30 p.m. start, due to the first Class C semifinal (between Pierson-Bridgehampton and Whitney Point) taking double-overtime and two five-girl rounds of penalty strokes to decide. Consequently, the sun began to set early in the Barker-Cazenovia game, and darkness set over the field late in the first half.
Barker jumped out of the gate strong, with Denny drawing a penalty corner less than ten minutes in, but the Lady Lakers began to assume control midway through the first half. Cazenovia had a flurry of chances late in the half, but Caitlyn Mason and the Barker defense held tough to keep things scoreless at intermission.
Barker was held without a shot in the second half, but applied pressure at times during seven-on-seven overtime play. Gabby Clare drove into the offensive end in the waning seconds of the first overtime, but couldn't control the ball well enough to get a clean shot.
On the winning goal, Cazenovia earned a penalty corner off a strong surge into the offensive zone. Caitlyn Mason made a solid play on the ball, but Cazenovia's Sarah Willard sent a crisp crossing pass to Kent that set up the winning score.
After the goal, as Cazenovia celebrated, a few Barker players sprawled out on the turf with their heads to the ground, perhaps thinking about a play here or there that could have led to a different final result.
But after the brief moment of grief, the Lady Raiders rebounded to accept their semifinalist awards with grace and dignity. Barker may not have earned a trip to the state final, but it was quite close.
The Lady Raiders will return many key players next year, and who knows? Maybe the ultimate goal is only a season away. After all, if they can hang tough with Cazenovia, they can hang tough with anybody.
NOTE: Check Monday's paper for a full-length version of this story, with photos and quotes from both coaches.