ATTLEBORO, Mass. – Momentum is a funny thing. You never know exactly when it might turn and if you’ll be able to get it back. On Tuesday night, Attleboro grabbed momentum midway through the fourth set and never let it go.
The Bombardiers rattled off five straight points to go ahead by seven in the fourth, keeping the match alive and forcing a decisive final set. Attleboro kept its foot on the gas and pulled away in the fifth to earn a 3-2 (13-25, 25-14, 20-25, 25-21,15-7) victory over Milford, sweeping the season series with the Hawks and putting the Bombardiers just one win away from clinching a rare playoff spot.
“They have not given up,” Attleboro coach Mary Katherine Runey said. “Even when we’re behind in game three, we’re already thinking we need the momentum at the end of game three to go into set four. Those are the things we emphasized, and our defense. When our defense is on fire, we can really showcase what we have to offer on offense.”
Milford came out on fire, dominating the opening set and controlling all aspects of the match. The Hawks won seven of the first eight points and never allowed the Bombardiers to get going. Aliza Syed was strong at the net, winning points with either hand and limiting the free swings for Attleboro’s standout freshman Julia Leonardo.
Sarah Brogioli added a big block to make the score 15-9 and Syed followed with a kill off the blocker. After a few errors and a good swing by Leonardo, Brogioli added a kill to make the score 20-11 and then an ace that got the Hawks within two points of a first set win.
There must have been something about that end of the court because over the first four sets, Milford’s 1-0 lead in the fourth was the only lead that either team had from the right-side bench.
Attleboro looked like a completely different team in the second, in what turned out to be almost a mirror images of the opening set. Setter Natalie Brojek opened the set with six straight at the service line, including three aces. Lexi Starks ended the run with a kill and an ace, but the Bombardiers had a little energy on their side.
Leonardo started to find a rhythm on the outside, hammering one of her six kills in the second. After a kill by middle hitter Kate Petrosso, Leonardo then came up with a block on the edge and Summer Pereira found the court with her serve to put Attleboro up eight.
“We were managing her and then, I don’t know, she made a few adjustments and we didn’t adjust back,” said Milford coach Tammy Webber. “Unforced errors, mental mistakes, they can’t miss a serve and then we miss a serve. You’ve got to take advantage when you have the ball and we didn’t.”
Starks tried to keep the Hawks close with a good swing and an accurate tip, but Gabby Bolduc answered for Attleboro and Leonardo kept firing darts on the outside. Petrosso hit one off the blockers to close out the set and even the match.
“It’s Natalie’s job to decide when it’s time to switch it up,” said Runey. “We’ve talked a lot about controlling the rhythm of the game and if we keep playing the game on the left side of the court then we need to go to the right and if we keep playing it tight to the net then we need to set the back row.”
When the teams switched sides, the momentum seemed to follow the Hawks, who jumped in front 6-1 to start the third. Brogioli had a kill and then earned a point by laying out for a dig that managed to find open court on the other side of the net. Maeve Driscoll had an ace and the Hawks led 13-7, but Attleboro managed to hang around.
Down 18-11, the Bombardiers won six of the next seven points, but Starks had a big kill to end the run and restore some comfort for the visitors. Leonardo painted the line with a kill to keep the set alive, but Syed closed it out on the next point with another kill.
A kill by Starks put the Hawks up to start the fourth, but Delia Barthel’s hit put the Bombardiers 3-2 . Things went back and forth until Petrosso had a kill that Milford’s defense could only hit up into the ceiling. Petrosso followed that with a pair of aces and Attleboro led 8-5. Brojek added a service point when another dig found its way into the rafters and then Leonardo started to catch fire with a couple of kills to make it 16-9.
A block by Starks kept things tight, 17-14, a great tip by Leonardo gave Attleboro breathing room. Brianna Frissora had a block and Bolduc an ace to extend the lead and force a final set.
“Doesn’t matter if you’re leading, behind, whatever, momentum in volleyball is so unpredictable,” Webber explained. “No matter how good you are, you just never know. They came in low and then got high and it’s the game unfortunately.”
Milford also won the first point in the fifth, but Attleboro won the next three. A good swing by setter Emily Croteau helped get one back for the Hawks but Leonardo answered with another kill. At this point in the match, Brojek was serving Leonardo no matter where she was lined up, as the freshman had a pair of kills from the back row in the fifth.
“She is by far the most aggressive person on the court,” said Runey of Leonardo. “She wants the ball all the time. She is definitely someone who works tirelessly on her game and she wants to be that go-to player. The leadership role that she’s taken on that court, even as a freshman, is awesome to see.”
An ace by Bolduc put the Bombardiers on the brink and fittingly it was Leonardo who closed the match with another kill. Attleboro is now just a win away from clinching a spot in the postseason. While the Bombardiers (and the Hawks) are well-positioned in the power rankings, Runey wants her team to get that ninth win and seal a spot.
She said, “It would mean so much more to earn that playoff opportunity. I don’t want to settle for just being in the top 32, I want us to earn that spot because these girls fight every single game. I believe in them all the time, but it would mean a lot for them to see that they can finally believe in themselves too.”
Attleboro (8-7) will try to clinch a playoff spot with a trip to Taunton on Thursday. Milford (7-7) will try to bounce back with matches against the league’s top two teams, King Philip and then Franklin.
But after losing three of its first five games, Milford has completely turned it around and is now the hottest team in the Hockomock League. The Hawks pushed their unbeaten streak to nine and winning streak to five with a 2-0 blanking of Attleboro on Monday afternoon and now sit in first place with three games to go.
“Hard work and unity,” Milford head coach Antonio Pinto said of what has changed since the beginning of the season. “The kids didn’t give up on each other. Especially when we were 0-2, we have really good leaders on this team that rallied everyone together. We have four great captains and even guys that aren’t captains, they pulled everyone together.”
The streak starting with a shutout win over North Attleboro on September 27th, continued with three straight draws, and now the Hawks have won five straight games, including back-to-back wins over Mansfield and Attleboro — the former the team just two points behind in the standings and the latter just three points behind.
“On the field, everything has improved,” Pinto said. “We knew we’d be a competitive team, we didn’t expect to dominate but we want to compete with every team in the state. We’re ready to play no matter who the opponent is. As a whole, even after the first results, we kept our heads.”
Milford applied pressure right out of the gate, registering their first goal-scoring chance just over five minutes in. The Hawks cashed in twice in the opening 40 minutes and senior goalie Kevin Gomes came up with a trio of terrific saves to earn the shutout in net.
The teams traded chances in the first half but it was the hosts who took advantage of their opportunities.
Avi Seri connected with Eduardo Santana with a pass out of the back and Santana turned and played a diagonal ball through to John Borges but Attleboro sophomore keeper Tyler Rocchio reacted well off his line, coming up with his first of many big saves to deny Milford.
Attleboro came back down the other way just three minutes later as sophomore Alex Vecchioli played a nice ball in for Liam Bischoff but Milford senior defender Chris Tocci did well to deny any chance.
Bill Silva launched a ball down the left sideline for Arthur Tome, who was able to go at the defender one-on-one and was fouled in the box as he cut towards the touchline. Tocci stepped up and buried a low shot to the keeper’s right for a 1-0 lead in the 14th minute.
It looked like the Bombardiers would pull level just two minutes later as Vecchioli, known for his left foot, unleashed a blast from distance off his right foot but Gomes made a terrific leaping one-handed parry over the bar to preserve the lead.
Eight minutes later it was Milford’s turn for a big chance. Junior Nick Ribeiro played a service into the area that was misplayed by the defense, giving Santana an open look from in close but his shot was right at Roccio, who did a nice job to hold on and prevent any rebound opportunity.
Attleboro senior Esvin Morales looked to pull even with what has become a signature move of his. With an attacking free kick about 25 yards out, Morales — who has scored twice doing this — shot it quickly before the wall was set but Gomes was quick to react and made a diving save to keep it out. On the ensuing corner, Vecchioli’s header was gobbled up by Gomes.
Milford doubled its lead with less than five minutes to play in the opening half. The play started in their own defensive third as senior Alex Siqueira played it quickly to classmate Christian Dinis on the right way. Dinis went central to Tome, who played a ball through behind the defense to Dylan Borr and the junior tucked away his low shot past the oncoming charging keeper into the far post for a 2-0 lead.
The first 20 minutes of the second half was mostly played between the boxes but with time at a premium and facing a two-goal deficit, Attleboro started to push more numbers forward to try and create chances.
Morales dropped a free kick in the area in the 58th that fell to Chris Russo but the senior didn’t get enough on his shot and it went wide. Two minutes later, Vecchioli curved a free kick around the wall but Gomes made a terrific diving save to keep it out.
The chances continued in the 62nd minute when Vecchioli kept the ball in play down the left flank and centered for Kyle Neuendorf but Seri came through with a key intervention to deny a chance.
“I always have a lot of confidence in our back line,” Pinto said. “Sometimes they scare me a little because they can take a few too many touches, they’ll take it past players…but at the end of the day, they get it done, they get their job done.
“And Kevin is an extraordinary keeper, made two or three great saves. [Vecchioli] can hit with both feet and had two great shots from outside and Kevin came up with a save each time. And props to their keeper [Rocchio] too, he made some great saves too.”
Attleboro’s Toby Smith made a great hustle play to keep the deficit at two in the 65th minute. Ribeiro connected with Dinis, who made a nice run out the back, but Smith came across the field to intercept the play and clear.
Junior Lucas Marques held possession in the attacking third, switching the play to the right side for a service from Neuendorf that was met by a header from Yianni Skordas but the shot was just off target.
“We worked hard in the second half,” said Attleboro head coach Peter Pereira. “They got their breaks and they capitalized in the first half. Unfortunately a penalty, that can throw a team off a little bit. And then they got a late goal in the first half, that was a dagger. It took us a while to get going in the second half, [Milford] has great ball possession, which is difficult to try and take it away.
“The last 20 minutes we pushed some people up to create some breaks and their goalie made some good saves. [Rocchio] made some good ones too. We knew it was going to be a battle but they played a little bit better soccer than we did.”
Milford controls its own destiny with three of its four final games against division foes, and two of those games are at home. But even with a two-point lead entering the final stretch, Pinto says the focus isn’t on another division title.
“These guys aren’t worried about a division title right now, they aren’t worried about the standings, they just come out each time ready to play,” Pinto said. “They love to play soccer and they treat each game like a final. Each game is as big as the one before it.”
Milford boys soccer (8-3-2 Hockomock, 9-3-2 overall) returns to action on Wednesday when it hosts King Philip. Attleboro (6-3-3, 6-4-3) will look to bounce back on the same day when it hosts Taunton.
The Bombardiers, who trailed by a pair of goals in the second half, cashed in during the final minute of play on a penalty kick to steal a point on the road in a 3-3 draw with the Tigers.
A long throw-in into the area in the final minute of play took an unlucky bounce and hit off the hand of a Tiger defender, giving the visitors a penalty kick. Sophomore Alex Vecchioli sent the keeper the wrong way, tucking his shot into the corner to bring the Bombardiers level with seconds left.
While it was an unfortunate bounce, the call was correct. But the throw-in before that, the one that led up to the handball, was more than just your average throw-in.
Seconds before, Taunton keeper SuJavonte Fernades grabbed a loose ball in the area off a cross but a teammate went down with an injury right in front of him. Fernandes immediately punted the ball out for the injury, but the Bombardiers didn’t buy it and elected to keep the throw instead of playing it back to the keeper.
“When you’re that close, you go for it,” explained Attleboro head coach Peter Pereira. “They were playing with the time delay, which is all part of the game but when you start doing that, we can play it too. But they are a good team, and they are young so they’ll be good for a couple of years now.”
While Attleboro took the early lead, it was the hosts who dominated play for a solid 50 minutes of action.
Attleboro junior Esvin Morales won a free kick from 25-yards out off a handball just eight minutes into the game, and before the ref could stop the time to map out 10 yards for the wall, Morales floated a shot to the far post before the keeper was ready and just like that, the Bombardiers built a 1-0 advantage on the road.
Taunton was coming off its first loss of the season after opening the year with four wins and now found themselves in an early hole against a division foe. But the Tigers, who have a very young roster with just three seniors, responded like a veteran squad.
Seven minutes after falling behind a goal, Taunton found the back of the net with the equalizer. Junior Aidden Fitting drove a free kick into the attacking third where junior Riley Rebello was the first to it, flicking it on with his head to put the ball in behind the defense. Junior Conal Scully made the run onto it and tapped it in from in close to make it 1-1.
It looked like the visitors would retake the lead just minutes later when Morales drove a low corner to the near post and Liam Bischoff faked the defense with a terrific dummy, but the ball went through the area and the chance went begging for the Bombardiers.
Taunton started to knock on the door over the next couple of minutes. A bit of “Route One” soccer saw Fernandes blast a long ball over the top of the defense that Rebello nearly chased down but Attleboro defender Cashel Stuger did well with his position to shield it back to sophomore keeper Tyler Rocchio.
Three minutes later, Taunton sophomore Delano Costa-Hanlon won a loose ball in the midfield, linked up with Rebello but his blast was denied by a nice diving effort from Rocchio.
The Tigers finally broke through on their third good chance in a 10-minute span. A quick throw from Scully down the left sideline found Rebello, who used his size and skill to create enough space to launch a cross to the far post where Sete de’letoile was all alone and tucked away his header.
“I’m really proud of them because even at the end of the game, they kept their head up and got together as a group and were focused on moving on,” said Taunton head coach Taylor Whitters. “They are working hard, we have a great group of guys that are very talented. We just have to keep learning from these mistakes.”
It was a dream start to the second half for the hosts, tacking on a third goal less than a minute in. Scully cut the ball back to his right foot at the top of the area and curled a shot past the outstretched keeper and off the far post and in.
“They play good soccer, they have nice ball control,” Pereira said of the Tigers. “They got a couple of goals to go ahead and then that third one was beautiful, no one is going to stop that. With 20 minutes left, we had to push people up. We got a break on the second goal and we went from there. That’s a good point away for us…they probably should have had the game but it’s not over until it’s over.”
As time ticked into the latter portions of the second half, the Bombardiers elected to push numbers forward. Luke Hagopian nearly linked up with Morales on a nice diagonal ball but Taunton defender Jonathan Trinh did well to recover and deny the through pass. A minute later, Vecchioli’s shot from distance was gobbled up on the bounce.
Attleboro got a big boost in the 63rd minute when Stuger blasted a free kick from midfield into the area and the ball slipped through the keeper’s hands and into the net, cutting a two-goal deficit in half to make it 3-2.
The Bombardiers were on the front foot for the rest of the game. Vecchioli found classmate Billy Badger in behind the defense but the latter’s touch was too heavy and grabbed by the keeper.
Before the pen, it looked like Fernandes had saved the two points for the hosts. Thomas Russo came flying out of the back with possession for Attleboro and he found Vecchioli, who did well to drift away from the defender. Vecchioli carried in the area, cut back to get space from the defender, and ripped a left-footed blast from 12 yards out but Fernandes parried it away with a diving effort.
“Any time we have a setback or a failure, we take it as a lesson and try to turn it around for future games,” Whitters said. “We have to have more of a success rate for a long stretch of the game. They are working hard at it and they’ll get there.”
Taunton boys soccer (4-1-1) will try to bounce back at home on Monday when they entertain Oliver Ames. Attleboro boys soccer (3-2-1) returns home for a date with Stoughton.