Although neither the Tigers nor the Hornets of Mansfield scored in a showdown of the Kelley-Rex’s top two teams, the point from the draw kept OA (26 points) ahead of Mansfield (25 points) and clinched the division title in the final league game of the season.
“It’s a good draw because that’s all we needed to win the league outright,” said OA coach John Barata, who helped the program win its fifth division title in the past seven years. “However I think we were the better team today anyways. I thought we had many more chances, especially in the beginning. I thought we dominated about 80% of the game.
“But they had the best chance of the game so we escaped with the tie. Although it was a good tie, we kind of escaped because they had that chance and we got fortunate. They could be Hock champs right now.”
The first half nearly picked up right where OA left off the last time these two teams met back at the beginning of October. The Tigers dominated the second half of that game with chance after chance, but only scored once in a draw.
“[Oliver Ames] is a much higher ranked team than people give them credit for,” said Mansfield head coach Steve Sheridan. “They are a great team…great coach, great players. I have nothing bad to say about this game other than I wish we scored.
“We should have put away that golden opportunity. But we didn’t play our best for 80 minutes and they didn’t score on us. If this was the tournament, I’d take my chances with my goalie in PKs.”
The chances came right away for OA, who had six corners kicks in the opening 40 minutes and six long attacking throws into the area.
Michael Nikiciuk ripped a left footed shot for the Tigers in the eighth minute that was collected by Mansfield keeper Nick Ferraz. Senior Nathaniel Cardoza played classmate Brandin Osborne wide but his low drive at the near post was turned aside.
Cardoza was at it again in the 20th minute, seamlessly splitting a pair of defenders before sending in a through ball for classmate Matt Campbell, but Campbell couldn’t quite get his body turned and his one-timer rolled harmlessly to Ferraz.
Jack Sheldon forced Ferraz into a leaping save in the 24th minute on a tight angle shot, but the ensuing corner didn’t result in a chance.
Chris Lawrence’s long throw-in found Nikiciuk inside the box in the 33rd minute, but his low bid from in close skidded wide at the near post.
Matt Alvarado sent a tempting cross into the box that bounced to the far post but Sheldon was just a step late and his touch went wide into the near post side netting.
“First half almost seemed like a continuation of the second half of the first game,” Barata said. “Then in the second half they were more physical and kind of took us out of our element. But we adjusted. [Mansfield’s] a good team. We really focused on a couple players, and one of them created their two best chances. We had to prepare for this like it was a state tournament game and that’s how we played it today.”
The game, and the chances, evened out more in the second half as the Hornets came out with a more physical game plan. The style worked, as the Tigers struggled to get their offense going as they did in the first half.
Nonetheless, both sides had chances. Campbell laced a shot just over the bar after hitting it on the bounce in the 47th minute.
Just a minute later, Sam Hyland jumped onto a loose ball for the Hornets but his low bid was covered by Carroll.
OA senior Cam Vella connected on a header in the 61st minute, but Ferraz had plenty of time to adjust on the bounce and make the stop.
The best chance of the game for either side came in the 62nd minute when Jackson Murphy played a perfectly weighted through ball to Lanzillo on the left wing, and he centered to a wide open Anastasia inside the six, but his sliding bid went over the bar.
“For us right now, we believe defense wins championships,” Barata said. “We’ve done well not giving up goals overall this year. I’m happier with the shutout than if we would have won 4-3 because I don’t want to be giving up goals right now. If we can score one, we know we can win any game. And if it goes 0-0, we are confident with PKs.”
Mansfield kept the pressure up as Harry Braidt sent a free kick into the area in the 66th minute but it bounced through without a recipient. Hyland had another chance in the 69th minute when his long throw was cleared back out to him, but his hard show sailed over the bar at the far post.
With the Hornets – who needed a win to clinch the division title – pushing numbers forward, OA had some chances on the counter-attack. Alvarado slipped a pass in behind for Nikiciuk but Ferraz made his biggest stop of the game with a point-blank save on a shot from inside the area.
Nikicuk nearly had the winner with the final chance of the game, again taking a pass from Alvarado but Mansfield’s Matt O’Donnell had a perfectly timed slide to just put him off and allow Ferraz to collect.
“If we have more of those chances [long throws, corner kicks]…we just couldn’t get anything going offensively, especially in the first half,” Sheridan said. “In the first half we couldn’t string together three passes. We knew what we had to do defensively. It just goes to show you our defense can hold it, we just have to get our offense clicking.”
Oliver Ames boys soccer finishes the season with an overall record of 11-2-4 and will likely be a top-four seed in D2 South when the brackets are released on Wednesday. Mansfield finishes 10-2-6 and will also likely have a home game to start the D1 South tournament.
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