The Hamburg Bulldogs are used to the sectional final stage, that doesn’t mean they still don’t feel a little nervous about it.
“We don’t want to let any of the past teams down,” junior Emma O’Neil admitted.
Hamburg came into All-High Stadium Wednesday night with five straight sectional titles and left with a sixth, as they beat the Niagara Wheatfield Lady Falcons 8-5 to win the Section VI Class B Girls Lacrosse championship.
The goalies shined in the first few minutes of the game.
Hamburg goalie Jess Graber made a big stop on Falcons’ junior Erin Wegzyrn who had an open shot from 10 yards out. A few minutes later, the Falcons had just gotten the ball and were taking it up. But, Hamburg midfielder Tara Geary intercepted a pass and quickly found Emma O’Neil on the fast break. O’Neil took the shot from point blank range but Wheatfield goalie Myna Fauzey made a stop to keep the game scoreless.
Wheatfield broke opened the scoring as Wegzyrn got a free space from 10 yards out and converted. O’Neil tied it as she intercepted a pass from Fauzey and scored on the open opportunity.
Less than a minute later, Wegzyrn got some room in front of the net and gave the Falcons the lead.
Sophomore Tori Lettieri sprung around in front of the net to get an open shot to tie the game for Hamburg. Freshman Dana Bacher scored off the fast break to put the Bulldogs in front. Senior Bella Lettieri snuck in front of the net to score and give Hamburg the 4-2 lead at the half.
Wegzyrn and the Falcons came out on fire to start the second half.
As the Bulldogs were trying to get the ball out of their zone, Wegzyrn intercepted a pass and then turned around for a goal. Wegzyrn took advantage of another free space opportunity to tie the game.
The junior scored four goals for the Falcons and has been key for them this season.
“She’s a leader,” Niagara Wheatfield head coach Trish Pineda said. “She can take that opportunity when it presents itself.”
At that point, Wheatfield began to take the reins and controlled possession for much of the next 10 minutes.
Hamburg head coach Katy Ryan knew that the Falcons were going to get off to a strong start, but she had the confidence that her team would bounce back.
“I had a feeling (Wheatfield) was going to come out strong and control the game (in the second half),” Ryan said. “I just felt my players were going to keep their composure and do what we needed to do.”
Suddenly, the Bulldog defense stood up and got back possession. Addy Wright took the ball off the inbound pass from midfield and went right to take down to the goal to take back the lead for Hamburg.
In the two previous matchups between the two teams, the Bulldogs had trouble with the transition, on Wednesday not only did they fix it but they had some fast breaks of their own.
“The last time we played them they scored three goals in fast break, so were working on stopping it,” Ryan said. “Then we came out on top in the fast break when we usually settle down in transition.”
O’Neil followed it up for her second goal as she rolled it in from 10 yards out. The junior ended the game with three goals for the Bulldogs.
The junior is a natural scorer and leader for Hamburg.
“O’Neil is our ‘brut’,” Ryan said. “She’s also a hockey player and you can see it when she drops her stick and lets it fly. She’s a true leader and the kids follow her.”
Tiffany Cristofinelli put the Falcons within one with 3:21 left in the game. But on the ensuing faceoff, Bella Lettieri took the ball right down field to put the game out of reach for Wheatfield.
Ultimately, the mistakes just added up in the end for the Falcons.
“We missed opportunities on the offensive side, missed some clears,” Pineda said. “Small little mistakes that ended it for us.”
Ryan was a part of the first school sectional title in 2007 and she is glad that the tradition continues.
“It’s exciting,” Ryan said. “It’s a different team every year. The fact that a group of 30 different girls can do it every year is pretty incredible.”
Hamburg will go on to play in the Far West Regionals on Saturday against Section V champion Canandaigua. Faceoff at 10 a.m. from All-High Stadium.
* In a previous version we had Kristin Jenese incorrectly listed as the head coach for Niagara Wheatfield