But yet, the Tigers were still prepared, and even more important, not panicked.
Trailing 2-1 with just minutes left in the game, Oliver Ames scored a pair of goals to earn a stunning 3-2 victory and clinched the Division 2 state championship.
Head coach John Barata called a timeout with about five minutes to play and OA’s chances of a state title dwindling. Barata made the decision to move senior center back Hector Bucio into an attacking role. The change paid off almost immediately as Bucio got on the end of a service from sophomore Craig Churchill and headed it off a defender and into the back of the net for a 77th minute equalizer.
“We’ve trained it all year, if we ever go down we’re going to put Hector up,” Barata said. “And then we wanted to keep pressing, pressing, pressing. Because once the momentum shifts, they’ll be nervous. We found a great ball over the top, Casey flips it over the goalie, and the rest is history.”
With just seconds to play, it looked like Bucio’s goal was enough to send the Tigers and the Hillers into overtime. But OA kept its foot on the gas and pushed forward again.
This time it was senior center back Jake Williams on the service as he lifted a ball over the defense and into a pocket of space occupied by sophomore Casey Milliken. Milliken used a class touch to lift it over the keeper and just under the bar to make it 3-2 in the 79th minute.
“There were so many emotions,” Milliken said. “I was scared, happy, thrilled, disappointed, confused…every word you could imagine. We really just fought through it and I think we deserve it. I can’t process it all right now, but I’m just proud of the boys because we deserve it.”
A scoreless half tilted in OA’s favor in terms of possession and chances as Hopkinton only threatened with a couple of long throw-ins. So it was a little bit of a shock when the Tigers — who had only allowed two goals in its first four playoff games, and only 12 goals through its first 22 contests — surrendered the first goal.
Just under two minutes into the second half, Sean Golembiewski was able to sneak into space behind the defense, and latched onto a ball over the top, taking a touch before depositing a low shot in for a 1-0 lead.
Oliver Ames battled back into the contest, finally getting on the board in the 62nd minute. After a handful of good chances throughout the first hour of play, the Tigers pulled level. It started with another strong defensive challenge from sophomore Luke Churchill, and transitioned into offense.
Junior Ryan Linhares took possession and played a ball wide for Joey Carney, who was able to shield off a defender and carry to the end line before firing in a low cross. Milliken found space in the defense and one-timed a shot into the back of the net to make it 1-1.
It looked like the Tigers were on track to take the lead when Hopkinton created one of their few attacking chances. This time, Golembiewski kept the ball in along the end line and his low service was smashed home in front by Peter DeMichele, giving keeper Drew HAll no chance at a save.
“There’s always that little bit of doubt because I thought we should have scored many chances before then,” Barata said. “We were worried on the sidelines, is this not our luck? In the tournament, you need a lot of things to go your way. But the guys weren’t really worried, even with four minutes left.
“For this group with the sophomores and juniors, and our two seniors that start, to be mature enough to come back was amazing. In the last five minutes, we just said give it your all. We worked so hard all season to get to this point. They wanted this. We couldn’t give it away, try to the end so you know you gave it your all.”
OA’s chances started early, just five minutes in Carney laced a volley that looked good but was blocked by a defender. Sophomore Andrew Martins had a good look in the eighth minute on a feed from classmate Jackson Mercieri but his low shot at the near post was saved.
Linhares found Carney in the 24th minute, and after cutting back across the middle, Carney’s blast forced a diving stop. four minutes later, Milliken set up Churchill for a blast that skipped just wide.
And just before halftime, outside back Diego Rivera sent a big switch to Mercieri, who found Carney on a through ball. His low shot clanked off the post and stayed out to send the teams into the break level.
“All of the seniors, both on and off the field, they all led us this year and we can’t thank them enough,” Milliken said. “This was the least we could do for them, they all deserve it.”
Oliver Ames boys soccer finishes the season at 20-1-2 and with its second Division 2 crown since 2015.
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