CORTLAND — "Turn it up a notch."

That’s what the Little Falls girls soccer players say to each other when they’re not playing up to their standards, lifting a hand beside their temple and twisting their hands like they’re turning a radio dial.

On Saturday night, the Mounties had to turn that imaginary dial all the way up if they wanted to advance to the state title game.

And they did.

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Senior Geena Morotti’s game-winner late in the second half completed the come-from-behind victory, lifting Little Falls over Wheatland-Chili 2-1 in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) Class C girls soccer semifinals on Saturday at frigid, snowy Cortland High School.

"We just turned it up a notch," said Morotti, who played alongside her older sister, Maria, the last time Little Falls reached the state final four in 2016. "It does something to us."

"We turned it up. We do this," senior Nicole Failing said, twirling her fingers by her head. "We played completely different. Something happens to us."

Little Falls (20-2), ranked No. 2 in the state, will meet top-ranked Stillwater (20-0-1), the Section II champion and 2017 state runner-up that defeated Section I’s Haldane (9-9-1) 4-0 in Saturday’s other semifinal, in the Class C state championship game at 3 p.m. Sunday.

On Saturday, Little Falls won its 18th straight game by overcoming a goal by Wheatland-Chili (21-3) in the fourth minute. Morotti’s game-winner was her 10th goal of the season, and it came in the 69th minute.

The senior midfielder crept up to the 18 on Failing’s corner kick from the right side. Gabby Sylstra’s header toward the goal was deflected by a defender and into Morotti’s possession 12 yards from the goal. Morotti gave the shot some arc, sailing over the scrum and just inside the right post as Wheatland-Chili goalkeeper Janae Hooker appeared to slip in her attempt to stop the ball as it bounced into the net.

"When I saw the ball bounce off Gabby’s head, I saw the opportunity," Morotti said. "It wasn’t a powerful shot, but it somehow managed to go in."

It took the entire 80 minutes for Little Falls to win. Senior goalkeeper Kylie Miles made her sixth save in the final seconds, stopping a hard shot by Emily Parker at the top of the goal area as the buzzer sounded.

Miles had a feeling the game would end that way.

"In the beginning of the game, I said to myself ‘Oh my gosh. This is going to happen. With one second left, they’re going to shoot it to me,’" Miles said. "And it happened."

Wheatland-Chili coach Gary Ward, who 523 career wins are a state record, and his Wildcats managed to take the lead just four minutes into the game. Sophomore Niyah Rosado gained possession of a ball that was cleared to the midfield, sprinting past multiple Little Falls defenders for a goal and a 1-0 lead.

Little Falls almost tied it when Failing fed Sylstra with a cross in front of the net in the 32nd minute, but Sylstra’s shot was wide of the right post, going into the half down 1-0.

In the second half, the Mounties would even the score in the 42nd minute on Failing’s improbable 29th goal of the season.

Failing dribbled to the left corner and fired a cross toward the net from an almost flat, 180-degree angle. Wildcats keeper Janae Hooker – she had two saves – and a defender was prepared to make a routine stop beside the near post, but the ball found its way past Hooker and into the far side of the net to tie the game at 1.

"It was more of a cross, but it was close to the goal," Failing said. "It was just powerful enough to slip through. I was so surprised."

Emma Rasch, Karlee Gullis, Makenna Peruzzi, Riley Dunn, Olivia Langdon and others buckled down for the remainder of the contest, turning it up a notch long enough for Morotti’s game-winner to end Wheatland-Chili’s winning streak at 19 games and keeping the two-time NYSPHSAA Class D champion’s string of state finals to three straight appearances.

"Once (Failing) scored that goal, I can tell the girls just turned it up a notch," Little Falls coach Sal Marchese said. "I can just tell they were a step quicker, and I think the nerves were gone too. … I’m very proud of them bouncing back from a 1-0 deficit. That’s a good team there. They’re not here every year for no reason."

Contact reporter Marquel Slaughter at 315-792-4963 or follow him on Twitter @OD_Slaughter.

 

Little Falls 2, Wheatland-Chili 1

NYSPHSAA Class C semifinals

Little Falls (20-2): Nicole Failing 1-0, Geena Morotti 1-0. Kylie Miles 6 saves.

Wheatland-Chili (21-3): Niyah Rosado 1-0. Janae Hooker 2 saves.

Halftime: Wheatland-Chili 1-0.