NATICK, Mass. – As the final seconds of the second quarter wound down in Thursday evening’s Div. 1 South first round matchup at Natick’s Memorial Field, King Philip was tied with the hosts at just a single goal apiece. The Warriors had not only been unable to score in the quarter but had gone nearly the full 12 minutes of the second while registering a single shot attempt.
Another defensive stand won the ball back for KP with 11 seconds on the clock. The ball moved quickly to Zach D’Amico and the senior LSM fired a strike from more than 50 yards away to the stick of classmate Tim Watson, who was camped out on the edge of the Natick crease.
Watson fired from a tight angle and scored the go-ahead goal just two seconds before the whistle. It was a lead that KP would not relinquish.
“We make a 50-yard pass with two seconds left and he didn’t even have a really good angle and we score, but then a guy throws a ball five yards in front of net and we drop it,” joked first-year KP coach Jamie Stefanini. “These guys are going to give me a heart attack.”
Sophomore Colin DeVellis scored a pair of goals and added an assist, while Watson scored once and assisted on two others, but it was the lock down defense of the Warriors and the play of senior goalie Paul Macrina (11 saves) that led KP to a 6-3 victory and a possible meeting with top seed BC High.
“Our defense is our backbone. They come in and they play hard,” said Stefanini of a defensive corps led by D’Amico, Conor Khung, and Michael Curtin with Macrina smothering the few chances that the Redhawks managed to create.
“They all play hard and if you saw in the game [Natick] didn’t get good shots,” Stefanini continued. “They were always far away, guys pushing them out…and they weren’t coming close to scoring.”
The defensive effort started right from the opening face-off, as KP went man-down twice inside the opening two minutes. On Natick’s first possession, senior midfielder John DeLuca picked off a pass, setting the tone for the type of defense KP would play all game.
While the defense was shutting down the Redhawks, the offense was struggling to find a rhythm and keep control of the ball. A turnover on an outlet pass created the first goal of the game for the hosts when Chris Burnes got free in transition to make it 1-0.
KP would answer back five minutes later. DeVellis created space for himself on the left side and saw his shot ricochet off the crossbar. The Warriors got the ball right back and the sophomore attackers got a second chance and made no mistake with a rip just inches under the bar.
In the second quarter, KP forced one save from Natick goalie John Carr, but then watched almost every offensive possession end in a turnover. Things were just not clicking on that end of the field until D’Amico stepped in with his pinpoint outlet to Watson.
“Guys are getting open and we’re throwing the ball over their head or we’re making the throw and we’re dropping it,” said Stefanini. “We need to clean that up.”
He added, “These kids want it. They want it bad. It’s up to us as coaches and players to correct these things. We need to catch it and finish.”
KP spent almost the entire halftime on the field taking shots and trying to find that groove on offense and it seemed to work. The Warriors added a third within the first minute of the second half when DeVellis picked out Aiden Bender with a inch-perfect skip pass.
DeLuca struck the post with another good KP chance midway through the quarter but then Natick finally found space to get a goal back. Macrina made two close-range saves but the Redhawks continued to snag the rebound and keep the pressure up. Finally, Billy Tinney was able to squeeze a shot past the Drexel-bound Macrina and the post to make it 3-2.
In the final second of the third, KP appeared to score again. Watson flicked a pass across the Natick defense to Ben Palmer and the senior midfielder leapt and finished but the clock read all zeroes. After a quick conversation, the officials ruled the goal was good and KP went into the fourth up by two.
Macrina came through with a point-blank save on Burnes and, after another save two minutes later, he also spearheaded a quick break that was finished off by DeVellis with a nifty move on the edge of the crease for a 5-2 lead.
The game was far from over as Burnes scored his second of the game with 2:21 remaining to cut the lead to two. Natick won the ensuing possession and caught KP’s defense flat-footed with Burnes racing in untouched for a golden scoring opportunity only for Macrina to read the bounce and make another great stop that sealed the win.
“That was a nice save,” Stefanini said. “He’s so passionate and so motivated about the game and this team. He’s not just a good goalie, but he’s also a great leader and he’s always trying to inspire his teammates. You see it when he plays.”
Nathan Minkwitz added an empty net goal in the final minute to give KP the three-goal advantage, but Stefanini admitted that the Warriors will have to take it up a notch against the top seeded Eagles in the likely second round matchup.
He said, “Their first couple goals were dropped balls by us and now we have an unsettled situation in their favor, especially if we’re looking at playing the No. 1 seed.
They’re going to take advantage and be much better on offense. If we play defense the way we can, we can play with anybody, but the offense needs to be more consistent.”
King Philip (13-8) awaits the winner of BC High and Newton South at a time and date to be determined.