By Ryan Lanigan, Editor-in-Chief
NEEDHAM, Mass. – Trailing by a goal, Mansfield was finally getting some attacking pressure as the second half began.
James Chotkowski laid the ball off to Sean Lanzillo near midfield and the sophomore was able to dribble across the width of the field, eventually laying it off to senior Charlie Rogers. Rogers took a touch into the area and unleashed a shot that forced Needham goalie Simon Shulman into a diving save.
But two minutes later on the other end, a blocked shot fell to the feet of Cormac Lynch-Collier and he placed his shot perfectly at the far post to make punctuate Needham’s 2-0 win over Mansfield.
“We were carrying the play in the beginning of the second half,” Mansfield head coach Steve Sheridan said. “We had that great exchange and then they scored and it took the wind out of our sails. We fought them until the end though. We just weren’t shooting. You can’t win if you don’t score and we just didn’t shoot enough.”
It was a strong defensive effort on the original effort but the bounce fell right to Lynch-Collier and his shot left Kirejczyk no shot.
“That seemed to deflate them,” Needham coach Jimmy Odierna said. “If you’re only up 1-0, it doesn’t matter who you’re playing against or how much you’re controlling the game. If they get one opportunity they can tie it up and it’s a whole new ball game. That was probably our frustration from the beginning is that we weren’t finishing our opportunities. Their keeper did a great job, their back line did a great job.”
The Rockets had control of the game from the get go and nearly took the lead in the 25th minute. Needham’s Donnie Igo was able to get a touch to the ball before Mansfield keeper Michael Kirejczyk could get to it and centered a pass to Jeremy Stern but his shot was blocked by Chris Elsner.
Just three minutes later, the Rockets did find the back of the net from seemingly nowhere. After large spells of possessions, the Rockets earned this throw after a poor clearance. Igo launched a throw into the area and Michael Aksman rose above his man and tucked his header into the corner for a one goal lead heading into the break.
The Hornets were able to really limit the Rockets, who have only lost a pair of games this season, in the first half. Elsner along with Max Gurnon were a formidable duo in the center and didn’t allow Igo — arguably one of the top scorers on one of the top teams in the state — to get much going at all. Igo scored four goals in the first round in a win over BC High.
“They doubled up our star up top and that really took him out of the game and made us work for our goals differently,” Ordierna said. “I think that helped us posses the ball a little more. When they had to be a little more offensive, they took it to us. They’re athletic, they’re fast. They’re very dangerous on their set pieces and they had some opportunities we were able to stop and that was the difference.
“To be honest we haven’t seen it much, which is evident from his goal scoring,” Ordierna said of the marking on Igo. “This is the first team that wisely did that and I expect it here on out. It was a well coached decision from them.”
One set piece that was stopped came in the 56th minute. Elsner ripped a free kick from 35 yards out that was targeted for the right upper 90 but Shulman lept up and got a hand to it, forcing it to hit the bar and go over the net.
Kirejczyk came up with a big save when Igo did finally get his first year shot on goal, taking a feed from Stern and taking a shot from inside the area but the low bid was saved. Sophomore Harry Braidt also had a sliding stop after a long cross looked to be deflected on target.
“A lot of the 50-50 balls we were able to get to,” Sheridan said. But they controlled the second [balls]. One thing they did really well was getting the ball away from pressure. Doesn’t matter where on the field, they get it away from pressure to a man on their team. They did it really, really well, they are a very good team.
“Overall we played well, we just didn’t control the middle of the field as much as I would have wanted. We did it to a point but not enough.”
Mansfield, the Kelley-Rex champs, finish 13-3-3 overall with its first league title since 2006.
Ryan Lanigan can be contacted at RyanLanigan@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @R_Lanigan.