TAUNTON, Mass. – Coming off its biggest win of the season in the D2 South Semifinals against top-ranked Nauset, Oliver Ames head coach John Barata was admittedly a little worried how his Tigers would come out on Tuesday night against Pembroke in the sectional final.
But those worries were quickly erased as the Tigers came out firing, dictating the play throughout the first half. OA took the lead just before the halftime break and then added two more in the second half to earn a 3-0 win over the sixth-seededa Titans, giving the fourth-seeded Tigers their third D2 South crown in the last four years.
“That’s where the experience kicked in for us,” Barata said. “We knew that even after winning such a big game, it was just one game and the next big game was this one. Having won that one and losing this one, [the Nauset win] wouldn’t have meant much. So it was very important coming out firing, and we did.”
It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that the Tigers were ready to go. With 21 seniors on the roster, Oliver Ames is stacked full of playoff experience.
The Class of 2018 witnessed the Tigers win four playoff games, including the sectional final, in 2014, their freshman year
In 2015, a handful of those seniors – then sophomores – played vital roles in five postseason wins including a win in the D2 State Final. And last year, they picked up experience in two more postseason games.
Now in the program’s 16th playoff game since they were freshmen, these seniors had no trouble getting going from the start.
“It’s a great senior group, it’s a group I’ve been with since kindergarten and first grade,” Barata said. “We knew it was a special group coming through, and we’ve had similar groups and have similar groups coming, but it’s been a special bond. For me, it’s been nice to see them succeed and now hold their own title up, not with senior groups. They’ve done it on their own.”
Less than a minute in, the Tigers had two goal scoring chances. Senior Chris Lawrence’s throw somehow flew through the area without a recipient. And seconds later, senior Mason Galbato chipped a service in but senior James Gillespie’s header was saved.
Three minutes later, senior Matt Alvarado found Gillespie at the far stick but his header just went over the bar. Two minutes later, Gillespie’s low shot just missed the far post after senior Michael Nikiciuk had set him up via a low centering pass.
In the 18th minute, Lawrence launched another long throw that slipped through the keepers’ hands but Brian Flaherty cleared the loose ball off the line to prevent the Tigers from taking the lead.
Flaherty gave the Titans their best chance of the first half. OA senior keeper Jack Carroll did well to clear away a cross, but the loose ball fell to Flaherty who floated a shot off the crossbar from 25 yards out.
But the momentum didn’t shift as OA continued its pressure. Alvarado touched a ball over the top that Pembroke tried to shield back to the keeper but strong pressure from senior Nathaniel Cardoza nearly gave the Tigers the lead.
A minute before half, the Tigers cashed in on a corner kick. Senior Jack Sheldon drove the corner right to the six-yard line where Cardoza rose up and nodded his header inside the near post for a 1-0 lead.
“We felt like we should have opened the game up much earlier,” Barata said “It made it a battle and we knew it was a going to be a difficult contest but we should have opened the scoring much earlier and much more frequent. But [Pembroke] made some adjustments, then we made some adjustments [in the second half] and got control back.”
While Pembroke picked up some of the play to begin the second half, the Tigers withstood the pressure. The best chances for the Titans came on a scramble in front off a corner kick, but OA did well to clear it.
The Tigers finally found an insurance goal in the 71st minute. Sheldon gained possession on the right flank near the corner flag. He was able to beat his defender along the line, drawing the defense out. He slid a pass right to the penalty spot where Alvarado calmly blasted a right footed shot into the back of the net to make it 2-0.
“We talked about going into a defensive formation or not, but at the end of the day, we had so many chances it just didn’t make sense to go into a cocoon and have them come at is. So we decided to not do it and it paid off. We were able to get the two at the end.”
OA put the game away for certain just two minutes later as Gillespie was rewarded for a great run with a service into the area. His shot was saved but Nikiciuk was right on the doorstep to tap it in for a 3-0 lead.
With the win, Oliver Ames boys soccer (15-2-4) advances to the D2 State Championship to take on North sectional champion Concord-Carlisle (13-2-6) on Saturday, with a location and time to be announced. It is also a rematch of the 2014 final, a 1-0 win by the Patriots.
“We look forward to playing them again, they are a fantastic team,” Barata said. “They have five state titles, they are a juggernaut in high school soccer. They are the bar that everyone tries to be. I know Ray [Pavlik] well, he’s a fantastic coach. I hope we give them a great game.”