By Kevin Prise
AMHERST — Aside from one small hiccup against Kenmore East during the Niagara-Orleans League regular season, the Barker field hockey team has been nearly flawless in 2013.
Barker earned the No. 1 seed in the Class C sectional playoffs, and played like it all the way through, capping a dominating playoff run with a 3-1 victory over No. 3 Eden in Wednesday's sectional final at Amherst HS.
With the win, Barker advances to face East Rochester at 1 p.m. Saturday in Medina, in the first round of the state tournament.
After defeating No. 4 Holland in a relentless downpour on Halloween night by a 4-0 margin, Barker appeared to have better luck with the weather this time around, as warm-ups were conducted under pleasant conditions. But a few seconds before the opening whistle sounded, the rain started to come down in droves, and it stayed that way throughout the game.
No matter, though. Barker came out of the gate aggressive and forced a number of early penalty corner opportunities, clearly asserting itself as the more talented team and dominating time of possession. Eden's goalie made a few early saves, but Barker senior captain Brooke Bodine scored with 19 minutes left in the first half, on a shot from in front of the net that made its way through a crowded goal crease.
Just three minutes later, Barker got some breathing room as a result of two consecutive penalty corners. Barker coach Jeff Costello urged his team to draw corners throughout the game, and senior captain Olivia Denny took advantage of a crisp corner pass from junior Melissa Grosshans at the 16-minute mark, firing another shot through traffic that made the score 2-0. The two-goal margin held up until halftime.
"That was the best first half we've had all season long," Costello said. "We tend to have a slow start, but I thought we came out really solid."
Just five minutes after halftime, Barker took a commanding 3-0 lead on a goal by junior Gabby Clare, assisted by senior captain Heather Mason. The goal again came off a penalty corner, exemplifying Costello's emphasis on these set plays.
From there, Eden proceeded to play its strongest stretch of the game, dominating the next 15 minutes and applying consistent pressure. Eden earned a string of corner kicks midway through the half, capitalizing on a goal by senior Abby Waldorf with 10 minutes remaining. With the score cut to 3-1, Eden fans encouraged their team to remember that the game was not yet over.
"We started having some breakdowns defensively, and we tried to do some things that we shouldn't have been doing," Costello said. "Eden really plays hard always, and they're well-conditioned."
But immediately after Waldorf's goal, Costello called timeout, and Barker began to pick up its intensity. The final minutes of the game were much more back-and-forth, and Barker sophomore goaltender Caitlyn Mason wasn't asked to do too much more to preserve the victory. Mason finished with three saves, coming up strongest during Eden's mid-second-half onslaught.
Barker opened the postseason with a 6-0 win over No. 8 Roy-Hart, before dismantling Holland to reach Wednesday's final. With the successful outcome against Eden, another sectional title is now in Barker's possession. Now, it's on to the next round.
"Our kids expect to win every game," Costello said. "Our history against East Rochester overall has not been very good, but we've gotten them two of the last three times, so hopefully we'll be able to change that. We'll see."