Bulldogs sweeping through WAC

The Enterprise — Jordan J. Michael

Overboard: Berne-Knox-Westerlo soccer player Maclin Norray tries to leap over a Duanesburg player during a corner kick last Friday, making contact with the opponent before falling head over heels. The Bulldogs beat the Eagles, 3 to 0, for its 10th Western Athletic Conference victory in a row. BKW is 11-2-1 overall, giving up only five goals in the last 12 games.

The Enterprise — Jordan J. Michael

Happy feet: Duanesburg was no match for Berne-Knox-Westerlo last Friday; the Bulldogs dominated possession. Here, the Eagles’ Nick Cornaire (#19) tries to keep the ball away from Nico Padros-Creus, a student at BKW from Barcelona. The Bulldogs are in first place in the Western Athletic Conference Southern with two games to play; the team beat Middleburgh on Wednesday.

The Enterprise — Jordan J. Michael

Floater: Lukus Becker, left, closes in on Duanesburg goalkeeper, Brett LaBelle, before he makes the save last Friday in Berne. The Bulldogs (11-2-1) won, 3 to 0, to keep a hold of first place in the Western Athletic Conference. Becker has scored two game-winning goals in overtime this season.

BERNE — Scoring against the Berne-Knox-Westerlo soccer team has been complicated for most Western Athletic Conference opponents this season.

Since allowing nine goals in the first two games — a 6-to-2 loss to Schoharie and a 3-to-3 tie to Duanesburg — the Bulldogs have given up only five goals. Over the last 11 league games, BKW has had seven shutouts, and has won three sudden-death overtime contests.

The Bulldogs (11-1-1, 11-2-1) have sole possession of first place in the WAC Southern, and could be closing in on its first league title since 2003. Back then, BKW’s six seniors were 7 years old.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said senior Maclin Norray, the lead enforcer of BKW’s defense. He also plays forward when needed. “We’ve settled in, found our rhythm,” he said. “We established where certain players should be playing, and everything has rolled from there.”

Head Coach Jim Gillis doesn’t know if BKW is a great offensive team, but the Bulldogs have been shutout only once, during a non-league loss to Stillwater. BKW posted three goals against Duanesburg last Friday, and have 30 total on the year.

“We score enough goals to keep winning, and that’s the name of the game,” Gillis said. “If you don’t give up a goal, you can’t lose. You may go 0-0-16, but you won’t lose.”

The Bulldogs kept the Eagles on its heels for most of last Friday’s game; Duanesburg couldn’t get any scoring opportunities. BKW had numerous corner kicks and scoring chances; Cody Fisher debuted his signature flip throw, which traveled far into the penalty box. The Bulldogs scored its first goal on one of Fisher’s flip throws, the ball bouncing near the goal, and being knocked in by a panicked Duanesburg defender.

Fisher had been practicing the unique flip throw, Gillis said, but he had never used it before in competition. “Where has that been all year?” asked Gillis. “It puts all sorts of pressure in the box.”

BKW’s goalkeeper, Trevor Haack, had an easy day, touching the ball only a few times. Norray told The Enterprise that the defense — Sam Abbott, James McGill, Devin McGill, and Cody Fisher — have been doing a fine job on the wings, marking opponents on the outside, and not allowing any crosses.

“I don’t remember Trevor [Haack] touching the ball,” Gillis said. “That’s what I want.”

The Bulldogs’ second goal last Friday came from Nick Nagengast, who made a fabulous touch of the ball off a pass from James McGill, and then swiftly kicked the ball into the net from close range. Nagengast scored another goal with three minutes remaining in regulation play, heading home a long, arching free kick from Norray.

“People say that we’re playing kick ball, but whatever wins the game, wins the game,” Norray said. “You’re always trying to find someone’s feet, get rid of the ball. Sometimes, it’s better to have the ball in the air, than an opponent dribbling through our defense.”

Gillis said that it was BKW’s objective to get back to Schoharie without losing a game after the Indians destroyed the Bulldogs during the opening game of the 2013 season. The Bulldogs did just that, and on Oct. 2 went to Schoharie, and won, 1 to 0, on a goal from Thomas Fisher.

“We kept saying, ‘We can’t lose until they lose,’ and we got back there,” said Gillis. “The kids have worked real hard.”

“That was a reality check,” Norray said of that Sept. 4 loss at home to Schoharie, allowing six goals. “We thought we could just roll, but they put us in our place, and then we…realized that we had to buckle down.”

During BKW’s winning streak, Middleburgh, Fort Plain, and Saratoga Catholic have all gone down in overtime; Lukus Becker scored two of the game-winning goals. The Bulldogs beat Middleburgh (6-5-1) on Wednesday.

“I think they are, yes,” Gillis said when asked if his team were confident. “They think it’s their time, and it’s been a long, long time.”

BKW last reached the Class C semifinals in 2001, losing to Chatham in double overtime. Gillis, a Section 2 soccer chairman, has coached the Bulldogs for 21 years.

“We have to keep winning, not let these other teams catch us,” said Gillis, referring to teams like Maple Hill, Lake George, Schoharie, Waterford, and Hoosic Valley.  “I don’t want to see Maple Hill in the quarterfinals,” he said. “How far are we going to bump Maple Hill up?”

The Maple Hill Wildcats, 7-2-2 in the Patroon Conference, recently beat first-place Coxsackie-Athens, but got blanked, 5 to 0, by Ichabod Crane (Class B) on Monday. In last year’s Class C first round, BKW lost at Maple Hill, 4 to 0.

“Until you can beat Maple Hill in sectionals,” Gillis said, “it’s still Maple Hill.”

The Bulldogs will be looking at a top-three seed in the Class C playoffs if it wins its last two regular-season games. How has BKW kept it going for this long?

“I don’t know, but we want to win, and we try,” said Nico Padros-Creus, a student at BKW from Barcelona. “We have a good team; we’re very happy.”

Whatever problems the Bulldogs had during the first two games of the season have been corrected, Norray said. Gillis tells his players what they’re doing wrong and how to repair it.

“They don’t act focused sometimes, and it makes me a little nervous,” Gillis said of his players. “But, they get on that field and play; they’re good.”

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