The first is to qualify for the state tournament, which the Tigers accomplished for the 11th straight season earlier this season with a win on the road at Franklin.
Now the Tigers can check the next box off on that list as they clinched the Kelley-Rex division title for the second time in three years with a 3-0 decision over Canton on Sunday afternoon.
“I think the season has gone really well, the boys have worked hard,” said Oliver Ames head coach John Barata, who has taken the team to the playoffs every year since he took over in 2009. “We’ve overcome some adversity and some challenges. Look at today, if you work hard luck can go your way. I think we learned you have to keep going. The first goal was a bit of a gift, to be honest, after [Canton] had done well defending and playing. The season has gone very well, we’re working hard and getting better.”
The first 50 minutes of the game was loaded with chances with each team coming inches from the opener. The Tigers hit the post and had a couple of point-blank chances turned away by Canton keeper Gio Ruggeri. The Bulldogs saw a good chance hit off the crossbar and stay out, and another bid cleared off the line by an OA defender.
The first goal finally came in the 51st minute on an unlucky play by the Bulldogs. After Ruggeri made the initial stop on a shot from OA junior Jimmy Keane, a Canton defender went to clear the loose ball but the kick ricocheted off of a teammate and into the open net for an own goal and a 1-0 lead for the hosts.
As it often can, the goal changed the game. From there on out, it was almost all Tigers. Oliver Ames scored a pair of goals inside a five-minute span later in the second half to secure the two points and the division title.
“We played a really good first half, I thought we both had the same amount of chances by halftime,” said Canton head coach Danny Erickson, now in his 27th year at the helm of the Bulldogs. “We decided to give them most of the possession and the field because I think that was the way the game was going to go anyway. We didn’t completely hunker down, we just gave them their half and wanted to counter a little bit. I thought it worked out pretty good in the first half and maybe 10 minutes into the second half.
“When you give them a lot of the field, you take chances that fluke things can happen. We gave up a fluke own goal and I think that kind of took the wind out of our sails. I thought we were good up to that moment and then we struggled against a very good team, hats off to [Oliver Ames].”
Oliver Ames kept applying pressure following the first goal of the game and found a second 11 minutes later. Junior Kevin Louhis was able to find space between two defenders and laid off a perfectly weighted through ball into the area. Junior Colin Milliken made a diagonal run onto the ball and used a simple touch to beat the keeper and find the back of the net for a 2-0 lead.
Five minutes later, Milliken had his second and the Tigers had a 3-0 lead. Senior Jonathan Freeman blasted a clearance up field. Louhis was able to keep possession over two defenders, playing Milliken in again. Ruggeri was first to the ball at the top of the area but Milliken tracked down the loose ball in the area and tucked it away for a 3-0 lead.
“We had a lot of chances, we had balls go through the six, had some shots blocked [in the first half],” Barata said. “Once that went in, it felt like there was a relief of the pressure. The guys were just playing, not every shot was to win the World Cup Final. Canton is a great team, Danny has done a great job with a young team. They are going to be very good in the future.”
Both sides had good chances in the first half, starting with Milliken’s blast from 20 yards out that was smothered by Ruggeri. Three minutes later, Canton freshman Jorge Sanchez put a free kick into the mixer and the rebound fell to sophomore Jacob Crunagle, but he couldn’t get over the ball and a shot on target.
OA responded when junior Anthony DaCosta won a battle on the sidelines, connected with Louhis who fired a left footed shot just wide at the far post. Two minutes later, the Tigers had a great combination play with Harry Ahearn linking up with Mathias Taylor. Taylor found Keane, who in turn played DaCosta in behind the defense but the final shot skipped wide.
Canton nearly took the lead in the 32nd minute. Senior Colby Ciffolillo rose up above the defense and got his head to it, lofting it over the keeper, but the ball smacked off the crossbar and stayed out.
A minute later, Ruggeri came up with a huge stop to keep the game scoreless. DaCosta connected with Milliken and he blasted a shot on target but Ruggeri pushed it away. Ruggeri made a point black stop a minute later when Milliken set up Keane inside the area.
Oliver Ames junior Brady deVos used the outside of his foot to near give the Tigers the lead in the 35th minute but his shot clanked off the post and went out. On the other end, deVos robbed Canton of a goal with a goal line clearance, heading away another bid from Ciffolillo in the 36th minute.
Oliver Ames boys soccer (12-1-0 Hockomock, 12-1-0 overall) returns to action on Tuesday with a night game at Mansfield. Canton (3-9-1, 3-9-2) will take on Sharon at Gillette Stadium on Tuesday night in the second half of a double header with the girls teams playing first.